Baseball: Freshmen impress as Northwestern drops 3 in Mule Mix Classic


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Matt Hopfner follows through a swing. The senior’s grand slam was enough for Northwestern in its winless weekend.

Evan Augeri, Reporter


Northwestern’s struggles continued in its trip to Tennessee for the Mule Mix Classic round-robin tournament.

The Wildcats (0-6) lost 11-4 to Middle Tennessee, 6-1 to Belmont and 10-6 to Lipscomb, as solid play from the team’s freshman could not make up for the team’s pitching woes. A week removed from being outscored 13-6 by Arizona State, 12 NU pitchers combined to allow 27 runs in 24 innings in the team’s second-straight winless weekend.

“They’re very strong programs,” coach Spencer Allen said of the Cats’ weekend opponents. “With that said, we helped them. You look at the free bases we gave up … mixed in with some timely hitting, and us not making some plays we should’ve.”

Against Middle Tennessee on Friday, senior pitcher Joe Schindler was taken out in the fourth inning, even after throwing a promising five-plus innings in his first start of the season against Arizona State.

Junior Tommy Bordignon — in his first appearance of the season — couldn’t finish the second inning against Lipscomb, allowing 5 earned runs. Likewise, freshman Hank Christie started the second game but hit a wall in the fourth inning and was removed.

“We need to get a little deeper into those games,” Allen said. “I want them to get into the sixth inning, where you’ll only looking for the bullpen to close out three or two-and-two-thirds innings.”

Not all was lost, however, as the NU offense found a spark in freshman second baseman Alex Erro.

In the fourth inning of Friday’s game, Erro hit a two-run bomb to left field, the first home run of his college career. He went 7-of-10 for the weekend, finishing with the home run, a double, a run scored, two RBIs and three walks.

“Alex is a really good player,” Allen said. “He’s not afraid of those situations too big for him, and that allows his talents to come out. … I think he’s going to be a consistent piece that will drive our offense.”

Coupled with the efforts of senior right fielder Matt Hopfner, who recorded a grand slam among his six hits, the Cats showed improvement after stranding 18 men on base in their series against the Sun Devils.
For the second and third games, Allen shifted Erro to the three-hole in the lineup. Erro said it was exciting to hit in such an important position, but held that the team’s success was more important than personal achievement.

“We need to construct a lineup that’s going to be the most beneficial to our team winning,” Erro said. “Whatever that lineup may be, whether I’m hitting one, nine, it doesn’t really matter as long as the team is succeeding.”

Erro is one of a ten-man freshmen class that Allen said has continued to impress him despite the Cats’ overall slow start.

Against Belmont, freshman Matt Gannon threw a scoreless four innings and struck out three. Meanwhile, freshman Josh Levy pitched 3.1 innings of relief and allowed only one run against Lipscomb.

“Our class brings a ton to the table,” Christie said. “Just the sheer number… and we have a variation of guys. We’re pretty deep staff-wise, we have lefties, righties, starters, closers, and the bats are very good, as shown by Alex. He’s raking.”

Erro, who was named Big Ten Baseball’s Freshman of the Week on Monday, will look to lead NU to its first win of the season this weekend in a series against Santa Clara, the final road trip before the Cats’ first home game on March 7 against UIC.

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