Baseball: Northwestern concludes home schedule against Cal

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Baseball: Northwestern concludes home schedule against Cal

Zach Jones settles in the batter’s box. The senior recently collected his 200th career hit at Northwestern.

Zach Jones settles in the batter’s box. The senior recently collected his 200th career hit at Northwestern.

Daily file photo by Max Gelman

Zach Jones settles in the batter’s box. The senior recently collected his 200th career hit at Northwestern.

Daily file photo by Max Gelman

Daily file photo by Max Gelman

Zach Jones settles in the batter’s box. The senior recently collected his 200th career hit at Northwestern.

Ben Pope, Reporter

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Nothing about Northwestern’s final home series this weekend will be typical.

Instead of the usual Friday-Saturday-Sunday format, the Wildcats (13-34, 5-16 Big Ten) will play the opener on Saturday, a doubleheader Sunday and then the finale Monday. They’ll do so not against a Big Ten opponent, but against California (25-18, 11-13 Pac-12). And when Monday’s game ends, the team’s few seniors will have played their final inning in Evanston.

But coach Spencer Allen said he doesn’t expect his team to be too fazed by the idiosyncrasies.

“We talk about this a lot that we have to be ready to play doubleheaders, 11 o’clock games, early games, late games,” Allen said. “I don’t really see it affecting guys at all.”

Monday’s game will serve as Senior Day for the team’s four seniors — pitchers Reed Mason and Jake Stolley, first baseman Zach Jones and infielder Antonio Freschet — on the roster.

On last year’s Senior Day, Mason, then a junior, pitched seven shutout innings but the Cats let a lead slip away in a 4-3 season-ending loss to Maryland. This year, Mason won’t start on Senior Day but rather on Saturday, getting the series started against a Golden Bears team he said he hasn’t scouted much.

“I’m not a pitcher who totally gameplans based on the other team,” Mason said. “I feel like if I execute at the level I’m able to, it doesn’t matter who I’m going up against, I’m going to get outs.”

Mason has gone at least 5 innings in his last five consecutive starts and allowed 3 or fewer runs in four of those. He struck out seven while allowing 2 runs in a 7-3 win over Purdue (7-39, 2-19) last Friday, the first of three wins in NU’s first series sweep since 2007.

In this weekend’s rotation, Mason will be followed by junior Joe Schindler starting Sunday’s first leg and sophomore Tommy Bordignon opening the second game. Monday’s starter has yet to be announced.

“From a pitching staff standpoint, I think we’re probably throwing the baseball the best that we’ve thrown all year, so I think that’s something that definitely gives us confidence,” Allen said.

The Cats also draw confidence from the string of victories over the Boilermakers, which boosted NU out of a tie for last place in the conference. Jones said the long-awaited sweep “definitely felt good,” but the players must put the elation behind them to refocus on the series now at hand.

Cal will likely be a much tougher opponent than Purdue. The Golden Bears rank 53rd in RPI nationally (NU, by comparison, ranks 261st) despite their sub-.500 record in the highly competitive Pac-12 and also swept Purdue by a 29-5 cumulative score earlier this season (NU’s sweep of Purdue was by a combined 17-7 score).

Allen said hosting a Pac-12 school in the newly renovated Miller Park will be a “special opportunity” — NU hasn’t done so since technically hosting Washington State in a Feb. 2004 game in Phoenix, Arizona.

And making the series even more special will be its significance for the team’s seniors, whose patience Allen praised profusely.

“There’s no guarantees in outcomes but all we can ask is that they give us their all, and this group has,” he said. “The outcomes, they are what they are, but these guys … are going to leave here proud, knowing that when we do get this thing turned around, they had a part in it.”

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @benpope111

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