The Daily Northwestern

Baseball: Northwestern travels to Texas for series with Longhorns

Alex Erro prepares to hit the ball. The sophomore infielder will look to lead the team in a four game series against Texas.

Alex Erro prepares to hit the ball. The sophomore infielder will look to lead the team in a four game series against Texas.

Daily file photo by Kate Salvidio

Daily file photo by Kate Salvidio

Alex Erro prepares to hit the ball. The sophomore infielder will look to lead the team in a four game series against Texas.

Peter Warren, Assistant Sports Editor

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After falling in its first two series of the season, Northwestern faces its toughest task yet this weekend with a four-game series against No. 23 Texas.

This series against the Longhorns (5-3) is one of the biggest early-season series for the Wildcats (2-4) in recent memory, as Texas is historically one of the best teams in college baseball.

Leading the NU offense is junior first baseman Willie Bourbon, who is hitting .375 with a 1.000 slugging percentage and 10 RBIs. Bourbon moved into the clean-up spot for last weekend’s Kansas series and hit four extra-base hits and scored four runs.

Bourbon is not the only player adjusting well to a new role in the lineup. Junior outfielder Ben Dickey has been solid in the leadoff spot after spending most of 2017 in the bottom half of the lineup. He has six hits and five walks to go, along with four stolen bases so far.

“It’s a role I have wanted since I have been here the last three years,” Dickey said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity. I feel very comfortable up there.”

The Cats’ bats have been up and down so far. In its two wins this season, NU has collected 24 hits, 13 extra-base hits and nine stolen bases. In the Cats’ four losses, they have only 25 hits with only seven going for extra-bases and eight steals.

On the mound, NU has struggled through its first six games, accumulating a 7.96 earned run average and .333 batting average against. In addition, opponents have scored at least 10 runs against the Cats in half of their games.

One pitcher who has performed well to start the year is freshman left-hander Quinn Lavelle. Lavelle, who was given the Friday night start against Kansas last week, has a 3.72 ERA and .222 batting average.

“(I’ve been) changing speeds and trusting my stuff and really trusting the defenders behind me,” Lavelle said. “I haven’t been striking out as many people … but there has been a lot of good plays behind me.”

Junior right-hander Nolan Kingham leads the Longhorn starting rotation. Kingham is ranked No. 57 in Baseball America’s Top Prospects for the 2018 MLB Draft and was named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List.

He threw a gem on Opening Day for Texas, throwing eight shutout innings and striking out 10 in the Longhorns win over Louisiana–Lafayette, but struggled in his next start against No. 22 LSU.

“They are going to be coming right at us with their arms,” coach Spencer Allen said. “Their arms are really good. Their offense has shown flashes of being pretty productive as well. I think they are going to try to be the aggressor and set the tone on Friday night.”

At the plate, Kody Clemens, son of Texas legend Roger Clemens, has gotten out to a hot start. He has 12 hits and an incredible 10 walks while occupying the three-hole for the Longhorns.

Texas averaged just under 5,000 fans a contest in 2017, with over 5,300 turning out for the Longhorns’ second game this year against Louisiana–Lafayette. Dickey said he is excited to play in such a unique environment.

“There is going to be a good crowd, really fun atmosphere,” Dickey said. “It is going to be one those things you look back on and going to be a good memory, should be a lot of fun and hopefully we go out there and win some games.”

Twitter: @thepeterwarren