Baseball: What to Watch For: Northwestern travels south to take on Purdue in first Big Ten series of the season


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Sophomore outfielder Andrew Pinkston tracks the ball into the catcher’s mitt as a runner on third base. The sophomore has played in seven contests this season.

Lawrence Price, Sports Editor

It’s been a rough go-around for Northwestern’s baseball program this season, with only two wins out of 19 meetings.

However, after securing the second win less than three days ago versus Northern Illinois, the Wildcats may have garnered some newfound momentum just at the right time. NU (2-17, 0-0 Big Ten) now travels south into another Midwestern state to face Purdue (10-13, 1-2 Big Ten) in West Lafayette, Indiana — its first conference series of the season.

Although the Boilermakers stunt a record eight wins greater than the Cats, their last few contests haven’t been steamrolls. Between a weekend series against Michigan State and a Tuesday matchup versus Indiana State, Purdue has lost their last three contests. Over their last 10, the Boilermakers are 2-8 — the same as NU.

With the programs trending in different directions, as NU hopes to build on a smidge of momentum while Purdue attempts to keep its head above the water, a lot is on the line in the first weekend of April.

Here are three storylines to think about as the weekend series nears.

1. Which pitching staff will wither first?

Even though the Cats’ pitchers have struggled to find their footing on the mound the entire 2023 slate, holding the worst ERA in the Big Ten (9.78), the Boilermakers haven’t been too bright either. Purdue’s 5.13 ERA is the fifth-best in the conference currently, but over the last 10 games the team surrendered at least six runs in six of those contests.

Of course, Purdue has still proven to have a deeper, more reliable bullpen than NU — a group that gave up at least nine runs in each of the last five games. But there’s still a chance for the Cats as the series continues.

Ceding 11 runs to NIU is very concerning, especially after building up an eight-run lead only to see it be toppled by the eighth inning. But this weekend, the Cats are likely to face at least one Boilermaker struggling on the mound, so they must take advantage.

2. Early April series lays groundwork for weeks to come

The last weekend of the year’s third month symbolizes a lot of things when it comes to America’s Pastime — warmer temperatures, bigger fan turnouts and most importantly, Big Ten baseball.

Purdue already played its first conference series of the season against Michigan State last weekend, but the Cats will enter West Lafayette ready for their first Big Ten meeting of the season. This is just the beginning of conference play: Outside of one series, both teams’ remaining series schedule will be against only Big Ten opponents.

Although still early into the conference slate, a winning or losing series could be pivotal to both team’s momentum in the following weeks.

3. Can the Cats stay hot at the plate?

NU’s hitting performance on Tuesday was their outing at the plate all season, hands down.

Behind eight runs in the game’s first two innings, 18 total hits and 15 runs all but one player reached base via a hit against NIU. Although the bats went silent for three straight innings — allowing the Huskies to climb back into the game and take an 11-10 lead — the Cats five-run eighth inning nipped that in the bud.

However, let’s come back to reality. NIU is no Big Ten team — they’re facing their own 2023 woes with a 5-18 record. The Boilermakers might not be the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to pitching, but they’re still a tougher cookie to crack than NIU. It will be interesting to see how the Cats respond to a more difficult group.

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