Baseball: NU’s offense tries to find spark in loss to Michigan State


Daily file photo by David Lee

Jack Claeys takes a swing. The senior catcher has gone 0-for-8 so far in the series against Michigan State.

Charlie Goldsmith, Assistant Sports Editor


Every eye in Northwestern’s dugout was focused on Jack Claeys as he stepped to the plate with a runner on second in the bottom of the eighth. Having moved up to third in the lineup after Friday’s loss, the senior catcher was coach Spencer Allen’s latest adjustment to spark an offense that’s scored just 20 runs in 13 Big Ten losses.

But Claeys struck out, and the Wildcats (9-23, 1-13 Big Ten) again couldn’t create enough offense in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Michigan State (13-22, 5-5). Junior shortstop Jack Dunn said hitting coach Dusty Napoleon recently sat down with every player trying to find the right adjustments to end their 10-game conference losing streak.

“Our offense just needs a spark,” he said. “Once we get a couple of hits going and score some runs, I think that can change the game and change the season going on from here.”

Michigan State starter Mason Erla surrendered just one run and three hits in six innings, and NU scrambled to find a solution to his fluid combination of fastballs and offspeed pitches. Senior first baseman Willie Bourbon, who moved down from third to fourth in the lineup Saturday, typically likes to figure out these adjustments on his own. But he’s started to ask for more help as he’s continued struggling to find his rhythm.

In Saturday’s game, that meant talking to Reynolds about what counts Erla is throwing certain pitches and hearing how he needed to be more aggressive at the plate. Bourbon’s batting average is up from .157 last year to .243 this year, and he went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored Saturday.

“Sometimes I do need that other perspective and coach Dusty is real good with that,” he said. “(I started) looking for fastballs … getting ready on time and attacking those early in counts.”

Bourbon’s single into right field to lead off the second inning set the table for a promising frame, but he was the only run to score despite having runners on first and third with just one out. Sophomore outfielder Leo Kaplan’s failed safety squeeze ended the Cats’ momentum in the second, and Claeys’ dribbler to third base with one out in the third led to led to another runner being thrown out at the plate.

Claeys entered the series on a six-game hitting streak and leads the team with six multi-RBI games, but he is 0-for-8 in the last two games and was one of many hitters who struggled adjusting to a strike zone two of his teammates called “inconsistent.”

“We all had to change our approach and swing at anything close,” Dunn said. “That makes it tough trying to get people on base and walking when he’s calling everything a strike.”

After the game, Dunn considered how hard it’s been to find a remedy for the team’s negative momentum. The team has worked on changing its approach with two strikes, tried drawing more walks and is striving for more hit-by-pitches to get runners to first base.

Though NU altered the heart of the order against the Spartans, Dunn said the Cats are still looking for answers after Saturday’s loss.

“We just need to come up a little more clutch,” he said. “We’re looking for a big five spot or something like that early on in the game to give us momentum.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @2021_Charlie