Baseball: NU looks to turn around season, learn from 2016 campaign


Daily file photo by David Lee

Jack Dunn slides into second base. The junior shortstop leads the struggling Wildcats in stolen bases with 13.

Charlie Goldsmith, Assistant Sports Editor


Jack Dunn recalled some memories, ones he’d rather bury before taking the field again Tuesday. After Sunday’s loss to Indiana, the junior shortstop remembered the lows of his freshman year. He was likely hoping this season wouldn’t bring the same results as the 2016 team, the one he said most closely resembled this year’s last-place team in the Big Ten.

“The only time this has happened to me was my freshman year of college,” he said. “We had a similar story there. … When we start believing we can win every single game, I think things will turn. Right now, it’s tough.”

Northwestern (9-20, 1-11 Big Ten) hopes to reverse this downward spiral in Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee (11-18, 6-6 Horizon).

In 2016 — both Dunn and head coach Spencer Allen’s first years as Wildcats — NU started Big Ten play losing 13 of the team’s first 15 Big Ten games and finished the season 15-39. But the following year, the Cats finished with a winning record in conference play and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament championship game.

This year has been more than reminiscent to that rebuilding season. Through 13 conference games, NU has been outscored by 55 runs and carries a .224 batting average. Both figures are worse than they were in 2016. The Cats currently have the second-worst ERA and batting average in the Big Ten, though the team has considerably more experience than NU did in Allen’s first season.

Five players in the Cats’ starting lineup this season — juniors Willie Bourbon, Ben Dickey and Dunn and seniors Jack Claeys and Connor Lind — started in 2016. But this year’s team has a lower batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS than the 2016 team did. Compounded by a pitching staff that allows 2 runs every three innings, the Cats are still struggling to find their identity.

“We haven’t put a whole complete game together (and) our pitchers will go out and pitch well and our hitters won’t back our end of the bargain up,” Dunn said. “Last year we were able to put everything together. A lot of the time last year we were all confident.”

Allen said NU’s lack of a sparkplug over the last month has left the team looking for answers. This losing streak, he said, has placed an especially large burden on the team’s relievers, who combine to have an 8.46 ERA.

“When we have opportunities (on the mound and at the plate), we have to take advantage of that,” Allen said. “We just need the continued consistency. That’s the biggest thing that this team is fighting to find. We’ll show flashes. But, we just have to find the consistency.”

Like the Cats, who have struggled ever since conference play started, Milwaukee hasn’t been able to string wins together this season. The Panthers have only won back-to-back games once this season.

In a break from the rigorous Big Ten schedule, Allen said he sees an opportunity for the team to find its rhythm.

“We are trying to play against the game of baseball, not so much the opponent,” he said. “We have an opportunity at home to get back to playing good baseball and we’ve all seen it. All it takes is whether it is a weekend series or a big comeback from behind win that could spark the team.”

Ryan Wangman contributed reporting.

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