Baseball: 4th-inning meltdown dooms Northwestern to shutout loss


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Zach Jones connects with a pitch. The senior went 2-for-4, but couldn’t propel the Wildcats past the Flames.

Benjamin Pope, Reporter


Northwestern’s batters looked as lifeless as the sparse, cold crowd at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park on Tuesday afternoon as the team’s homestand ended with a 7-0 shutout loss to Illinois-Chicago.

An ensemble of six pitchers for the visiting Flames (11-16, 3-2 Horizon) held the Wildcats (7-22, 1-5 Big Ten) to just four hits as the hosts struggled to make contact with the ball, striking out nine times.

After three innings of solid pitching and fielding by both sides, a slightly off-target throw abruptly unraveled the Cats’ control of the game in the fourth.

Freshman second baseman Willie Bourbon’s throw to senior first baseman Zach Jones was off the base, allowing UIC outfielder Conor Philbin to reach safely on what should’ve been the third out. That mistake was followed by a fielder’s choice error, allowing Philbin to sneak into home for the opening run. Two batters later, a triple by left-fielder Scott Ota scored 2 and stretched the visitors’ lead to 3-0.

“Two outs, nobody on and a … fairly routine ground ball, and that’s just a play at this level that has to be made,” coach Spencer Allen said. “Then we (weren’t) able to stop it. When you don’t make plays, teams are going to put the ball in play and make you pay for it.”

The disastrous stretch sent the contest spiraling out of control for NU.

The Flames tacked on 2 more runs in the fifth inning via a single and sacrifice fly, then added the final run off a wild pitch in the eighth inning. Eight UIC batters recorded a hit, led by Ota, who went 2-for-2 with a walk and 3 RBIs.

NU’s best chance to score came with two outs in the third inning, when Jones and junior rightfield Matt Hopfner and junior leftfield Joe Hoscheit all singled consecutively, but Jones was thrown out at home to spoil the opportunity.

Jones, who struggled through a 1-for-13 stretch in the weekend series against Michigan, proved a lone bright spot for the Cats, going 2-for-4 with a stolen base. He also had several athletic defensive plays at first.

“It wasn’t a great weekend for me personally, and I tried to just learn from it and forget about it … and go out there with good focus today, and it worked out a little better for me,” he said.

After a rough stretch of recent appearances, senior pitcher Jake Stolley made his second career start for the Cats and tossed two calm, scoreless innings. Freshman Danny Katz struggled in relief, allowing four runs and seven hits in two innings pitched, before a parade of ensuing NU pitchers settled the ship.

UIC’s outfielders produced several highlight-reel catches, including a sliding snare into the left-field foul fence and a diving grab in deep right field. The Cats, meanwhile, missed a number of would-be difficult catches and committed several questionable infield defensive decisions.

That disparity, along with the fourth-inning meltdown, doomed NU to its 18th loss in its last 21 games with a road series against conference-leading Nebraska looming.

Allen, however, said the team will need to rely on senior leaders like Jones — who have endured difficult slumps like this in the past — to stay motivated despite Tuesday’s lackluster outing.

“It’s the season of ‘What if?’,” Allen said. “We definitely have to focus more on us than anything (else). We’ve just got to play good baseball. The good thing is that early in the year we tasted what good baseball can be like; we just need to get back to that.”

A previous version of this story was accompanied by the wrong photo. The Daily regrets this error.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @benpope111