Baseball: Northwestern looks for first series win of the season on the road against Missouri

Hank+Christie+brings+the+heat.+The+junior+pitcher+has+had+an+inconsistent+start+to+the+season

Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Hank Christie brings the heat. The junior pitcher has had an inconsistent start to the season

Eric Rynston-Lobel, Reporter


Baseball


For most teams, losing six of the first 10 games might not generate a ton of excitement. But for Northwestern, there is no shortage of confidence heading into this weekend’s series against Missouri.

Having beaten strong programs in California, Duke and Georgia Tech, the Wildcats (4-6) have shown that they can compete with anyone and will look for their first series win of the season against the Tigers (6-5) in Columbia, Missouri.

Reflecting on the first 10 games of the season, coach Spencer Allen singled out sophomore starting pitcher Quinn Lavelle and junior reliever Nick Paciorek as playing significant roles on the mound. Paciorek, a catcher his first two years at Northwestern, is now a full-time pitcher for the first time in his baseball career.

“I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now,” Paciorek said. “It’s pretty tough having those two walk-offs the first two weekends, but I feel like I’m pretty comfortable in high-leverage situations now. It’s a learning experience throughout the whole year, and I feel like each weekend I’m just going to continue to keep getting better and better.”

Aside from Lavelle and Paciorek, inconsistency has plagued NU’s pitchers, including junior Hank Christie, who allowed a season-high 7 runs in his last start on Friday against the Yellow Jackets after striking out a career-high 10 Duke hitters the previous week.

The bullpen has also struggled, combining for an 8.36 earned run average in 42 innings pitched. Those numbers are skewed by an 11-2 loss to Brigham Young and a 23-8 loss to the Blue Devils, but Allen said he and associate head coach Josh Reynolds are continuing to challenge the relievers to focus on throwing their secondary pitches for strikes.

“Out of the pen, guys are ready to hit the fastball,” he said. “They’ve had two to three at bats and their timing is kind of locked in, so you have to come in with spin and you have to come in with good fastball command because if you miss middle of the plate, guys are going to hit you.”

In the batter’s box, redshirt freshman David Dunn leads the team with a .382 batting average. After playing in only 10 games last season, Dunn has provided consistency in NU’s lineup. He cited his approach of just “hunting fastballs” as the main reason for his early success this season.

Last weekend against Georgia Tech, Dunn hit in the second spot in the lineup behind his older brother, Jack, the senior shortstop. Having hit in the middle and bottom of the order in the first two series, the younger Dunn said he likes hitting wherever Allen wants him to, but acknowledged the uniqueness of hitting behind his brother.

“Before every game on the intercom when they say ‘Jack Dunn, David Dunn,’ it’s always a cool experience for me and my family that comes to watch our games,” he said. “Just growing up playing cul-de-sac-baseball with him and competing with him all the time and having both our goals being playing college baseball, and now it’s a reality playing here.”

As for the rest of the hitters, Allen said the biggest focus this weekend is hitting with runners in scoring position, rather than looking at players’ batting averages. Four players are hitting .310 or higher. The rest of the team is hitting .240 or worse.

“I’ll take a .230 if he’s going to hit a double with the bases loaded,” he said. “I think that’s just the biggest thing, just to relax and not to worry about where they’re at right now average-wise.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @EricR_L

Comments