Baseball: Northwestern focusing on improving in final series

Zach Jones prepares to face a pitch. The senior first baseman recently recorded his 200th career hit.

Daily file photo by Max Gelman

Zach Jones prepares to face a pitch. The senior first baseman recently recorded his 200th career hit.

Ben Pope, Reporter


While the rest of the Dillo-entranced student body parties on the Lakefill this weekend, the 30 players of Northwestern’s baseball team will fight 700 miles away to avoid setting an infamous record.

Less than a week removed from a disastrous series against Cal in which the team was outscored 59-5 over four games, the Wildcats (13-38, 5-16 Big Ten) must sweep the series against the Scarlet Knights (26-26, 8-13) to avoid setting the outright record for the most single-season losses in school history. Given the course of NU’s season thus far and Rutgers’ 5-4 record in conference home games, it will be a difficult task for the Cats.

Coach Spencer Allen said he hopes his team will be able to concentrate on their own growth despite the bleak situation.

“We’re just looking for guys to get a little bit better,” Allen said. “We’re not focused too much on Rutgers; we’re just focused on ourselves getting better.”

Senior pitcher Reed Mason (2-6, 4.15 ERA), who was honored in Monday’s 13-2 Senior Day loss to Cal, will start Thursday for NU, followed by junior Joe Schindler (1-2, 4.15 ERA) on Friday and sophomore Tommy Bordignon (2-3, 4.15 ERA) in the season finale Saturday.

This weekend will also end the collegiate career of senior reliever Jake Stolley.

Stolley hasn’t allowed a run in eight of his last 10 appearances — including 3.2 innings pitched in NU’s sweep of Purdue from May 6 to 8 — before a rough Sunday outing against the Golden Bears, when he conceded four runs while recording only two outs. Against Rutgers, he’ll seek to conclude his time with the Cats on a higher note.

“(We want to) just build upon what we had last weekend against Purdue and play baseball like we know how to play,” Stolley said.

NU holds a 2-1 all-time record against Rutgers but has yet to face the Scarlet Knights since it joined the Big Ten in 2014. Rutgers will also need a sweep, and help from other teams, this weekend to accomplish their goal: to qualify for the conference tournament, for which they must jump three teams in the standings to squeeze into the eight-team field.

The hosts’ ability to steal bases could be a major key to the matchup.

The Scarlet Knights have attempted 131 stolen bases this season — 33 more than any other Big Ten team — and succeeded on 109 of them. The Cats, meanwhile, have allowed 87 stolen bases against them this year, almost 20 more than the next highest Big Ten team. NU sophomore catchers Jack Claeys and Mat Jones will likely be tested thoroughly on their pick-off throws to second and third base.

On Thursday, the Cats will face Rutgers pitcher Howie Brey, (6-4, 3.27 ERA) who leads the Big Ten in innings pitched this season, in a series opener that will eliminate one of the two teams’ dreams of a sweep while keeping the other’s alive. Allen said his team will try to “play spoiler” in that momentum-swinging first game.

Fresh off of his 200th career hit earlier this month, senior first baseman Zach Jones is thinking even further ahead — he said he sees this weekend’s series as a potential to springboard the team toward the future.

“Hopefully … (we can) end the season on a couple wins and just go have fun and play good baseball and hopefully get some momentum for this program moving forward,” Jones said.

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