Baseball: Northwestern, Purdue battle to escape last place


Daily file photo by Max Gelman

Joe Hoscheit swings at the pitch. The junior outfielder notched 1 of the Wildcats’ 4 hits during the team’s last game Wednesday.

Ben Pope, Reporter


One hundred sixteen years ago, Northwestern trounced Purdue 10-3 in Evanston in the two universities’ first-ever baseball game against each other. “The Purple,” as the Wildcats were known until 1924, and the Boilermakers have played 198 times since then.

But when senior pitcher Reed Mason takes the mound to begin the 200th all-time meeting Friday, the only significant title on the line will be one that both teams will be fighting desperately to avoid: last place in the Big Ten.

The 2016 season hasn’t treated either NU (10-34, 2-16 Big Ten) or Purdue (7-34, 2-16) kindly. Since March 20, the two teams have lost a combined 45 of 53 games to plummet into the basement of the Big Ten standings. This weekend, however, one of them is guaranteed to pick up its first conference series victory of the season.

The Cats are hoping to claim that elusive first win for themselves.

We’re still focused on this season,” said coach Spencer Allen following Wednesday’s 5-4 loss at Illinois-Chicago. “We’re just trying to continue to develop and learn how to win. We need to win a Big Ten series, and that’s something that we haven’t done this year, so we’ve still got some things that we’re trying to … accomplish as a team.

The trio of games at Miller Park against the Boilermakers should offer the best opportunity of the year to do so.

After being swept by Ohio State last weekend, Purdue has lost six straight games, sports a 3-20 road record and is the only other Big Ten team besides the Cats with a cumulative ERA above 5.00, making them the weakest opponent left on NU’s schedule.

But success in the series is still far from certain.

The Wildcats mustered just 4 hits in its fourth consecutive 1-run loss Wednesday, and junior outfielder Joe Hoscheit said the Cats will need a renewed focus on batting to return to the win column.

When you’re swinging at pitches out of the zone, myself included, it’s pretty uncharacteristic of our team,” Hoscheit said. “We just need to take a step back and really understand what we’re doing at the plate and I think that’ll help us this weekend.”

Hoscheit, who boasts 6 RBIs in his last four appearances, will face a struggling cast of Purdue starting pitchers in the series: Gavin Downs (1-4, 5.06 ERA) on Friday, Matt Frawley (1-5, 3.05 ERA) on Saturday and Shane Bryant (0-3, 5.72 ERA) on Sunday.

Mason (2-5, 4.17 ERA) and junior Joe Schindler (1-1, 4.15 ERA) will go for NU on Friday and Saturday, respectively, with Sunday’s starter yet to be announced.

Both Cats starters produced quality outings in last weekend’s series at Indiana, with Mason allowing just 2 runs in six full innings and Schindler striking out 3 in 5.2 scoreless innings.

The bullpen rotation has struggled to match the starters’ effectiveness, however. NU has lost two of its last three games on ninth-inning walk-offs and used 17 different pitchers this season — 12 of which have ERAs of 6.67 or higher.

Nevertheless, junior reliever Cooper Wetherbee said he remains optimistic about the state of the team as the season begins to wind down.

“There’s a mental side of it that, as a pretty young team, we’re still struggling to pick up,” Wetherbee said. “With all the talent that we have in the building, there’s no reason for us not to be competitive going forward, and we’re just figuring out how to … come out consistently every game we play.”

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