Baseball: Northwestern picks up important midweek win before heading to Penn State
April 18, 2017
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Northwestern pounced at the opportunity to begin a new winning streak with a non-conference game prior to returning to Big Ten play.
The Wildcats (14-22, 3-6 Big Ten) attacked the plate in the early innings against Milwaukee (12-21) at Miller Park on Tuesday, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first 4 innings and never relenting in the eventual 6-4 victory.
“We’re looking for pitches early in the count that we can drive and this team was throwing a lot of strikes early in counts,” freshman outfielder Leo Kaplan said. “We knew that and we were going out there and just trying to put good swings on the ball.”
Kaplan, who has been a key contributor to NU’s offense this season, launched a solo home run in the fourth inning and scored a second run, making him responsible for one-third of NU’s scoring.
However, the Cats’ aggressive offensive approach could have backfired if not for the impressive pitching performance by Josh Davis.
The senior said he was focused on not giving up any free bases, but that NU’s success was largely due to his teammates.
“It’s great because when you have a great defense playing behind you, you know that all you have to do is pound the zone and let those guys work behind you,” Davis said.
The right-hander gave the Cats a significant amount of breathing room in the early innings, as Davis, who fired 5 scoreless innings, pitched with a lead throughout his start.
Coach Spencer Allen said he believed the hot start on both ends gave the offense and defense mutual confidence.
“It’s just easier to play this game when you have a little bit of a lead, and getting those early runs I think helped Josh as well,” Allen said. “But he set the tone, there’s no doubt about it.”
The bullpen also was generally strong, aside from a rough ninth inning from freshman Nick Cauley, who allowed 3 runs in six at-bats while recording just two outs.
Though this win does not count for NU’s Big Ten record, it marks a positive step toward gaining momentum ahead of this weekend’s series against Penn State.
“We just wanted to stay competitive,” Kaplan said. “Midweek games you have to stay focused for them even though it’s not Big Ten play, we have to come out here and do your job.”
The freshman added that the team’s focus is on putting together one at-bat and one pitch at a time, rather than getting caught up in the larger scope of each game.
Regardless of their attempts to ignore the implications for the season as a whole and take things one step at a time, Allen said everyone is well aware of the importance of the upcoming series against the Nittany Lions.
“It is a big series and I don’t think I’m going to have to say anything. I don’t think any of the coaches are really going to have to say anything,” Allen said. “These guys understand that with five series left, we have to make some hay and we have to do it soon.”