Baseball: Northwestern welcomes Penn State in potential pitchers’ duel


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Willie Bourbon rounds third base after hitting a home run. The freshman leads Northwestern in RBIs with 21.

Ben Pope, Reporter


When Northwestern throws the first pitch of its series opener against Penn State on Friday afternoon, the forecast will call for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s. As the series progresses into the weekend, those temperatures are projected to rise into the 60s.

Riding a two-game winning streak for the first time since February, the Wildcats (9-24, 2-7 Big Ten) hope the warmer weather will coincide with a much-needed continuation of their hot streak on the field.

“I’m really excited for this stretch coming up,” freshman second baseman Willie Bourbon said after Wednesday’s win. “That’ll be awesome to get to play in front of our home crowd, hopefully get some nicer weather — it’s been kind of chilly. I think, right here, we’re going to make a run.”

NU has won back-to-back games against teams with winning records: first an 11-3 domination of Nebraska (22-11, 7-2) on Sunday and then a 5-1 decision over Bradley (15-11, 1-1 Missouri Valley) on Wednesday. Excellent pitching has proven the storyline of the modest streak, as the team used five pitchers against the Cornhuskers and then nine against the Braves while allowing just 4 total runs.

In order to extend the win streak to a season-high three, the Cats will have to top yet another squad with a winning record, Penn State (19-14, 5-4), who has three meetings at Miller Park this weekend. The Nittany Lions will make their first visit to Evanston since 2011 boasting an impressive streak of their own — winning 10 of their last 12 games culminated by an 8-1 rout of Bucknell on Wednesday.

Penn State is likely to start a pair of stellar pitchers — senior Nick Hedge (4-1, 2.10 ERA), who has not allowed a run in 10 combined innings over his last two starts, and freshman Justin Hagenman (4-1, 2.25 ERA) — in two of the three games.

They will pose a significantly tougher challenge for NU than did Bradley’s starter, Ben Olson (1-3, 5.40 ERA), but coach Spencer Allen said he hopes his team will approach this weekend’s contests the same as they did Wednesday.

“I just told the guys that whatever we did mentally preparation-wise, we’ve got to repeat that, because it was awesome,” Allen said. “Penn State is obviously going to be better, we’re going to face a better arm in a weekend starter, but we have to take that same mentality.”

For the Cats, senior Reed Mason (2-2, 4.05 ERA) is Friday’s probable starter, followed by sophomore Dan Kubiuk (0-3, 5.46) on Saturday. As of Thursday night, Sunday’s starter had not been announced.

The continual re-integration of junior Joe Schindler (1-0, 3.38 ERA), who returned from suspension last week, will also aid the rotation. Schindler worked in and out of trouble during the sixth inning Wednesday, allowing men to reach first and second before retiring the next three batters and preserving the Cats’ lead.

With a series of possible low-scoring pitcher’s duels looming, the hosts desperately need a statement series victory to move up in the conference standings, where they currently sit 12th out of 13 teams and 1.5 games behind Ohio State and Rutgers who are tied for 10th.

“If there’s a time, this is the time we’ve got to make a run,” Allen said. “We’re playing our best baseball that we’ve played all year, so hopefully we can string a couple more together.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Joe Schindler’s year. Schindler is a junior. The Daily regrets the error.

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