Baseball: Notre Dame thrashes Northwestern 12-0 in Tuesday road contest


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Junior infielder Vincent Bianchina puts the tag on the Notre Dame runner from the Cats’ last match against them in 2022. The junior didn’t play in this year’s contest between the two teams, but did last year.

Lawrence Price, Sports Editor

Northwestern’s bats were hotter than an iron on dress clothes March 28 at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park. Behind 18 hits, three doubles and two home runs, the Wildcats were on fire at the plate and beat Northern Illinois 15-11.

And yet a week later, NU (3-20, 1-2 Big Ten) couldn’t muster up a single run versus Notre Dame (15-11, 5-7 ACC) Tuesday, losing 12-0. The Fighting Irish crossed the plate in all but three innings, whereas the Cats only recorded three hits following the second inning.

Instead of the run-of-the-mill game recap, here are a few takeaways from the afternoon massacre:

1. Pitching staff struggles continue

After allowing eight hits and six runs in three innings during his last three outings and then striking out two of four batters faced in the first inning, junior right-handed pitcher David Utagawa looked like he finally got the monkey off his back.

However, Utagawa’s success against Notre Dame’s first four batters didn’t hold up in the second. The Fighting Irish batted around in the half-inning as the right-hander gave up six runs on six hits, ending his day.

Although Utagawa’s underwhelming performance wasn’t favorable, he was only a microcosm of the madness. With five other relievers entering the contest after the starters, all but one gave up a run, illustrating how the problem expands outside just one pitcher.

With these troubles, NU has given up 10 or more runs in 12 of its 23 contests, proving to be the top issue the team needs to address.

2. Bats can’t get hot when facing top pitching

With only three wins so far, it’s easy to push the negative narrative onto a pitching rotation that holds the worst earned run average in the Big Ten. However, following the loss, the Cats officially hold the second-worst batting average in the conference.

Granted, Notre Dame’s pitching staff isn’t the easiest to face — a rotation stocked with talent that has already played 12 games against some of the country’s top hitters in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Fighting Irish’s group of arms can give most teams across the nation a difficult time at the plate.

That said, the Cats’ remaining season consists of conference threats and big names, so they must get used to this level of accuracy, effectiveness and polish from opposing pitchers. However, the struggles that NU faced Tuesday do provide concern on what’s to come.

3. Loss to Notre Dame may affect NU’s series versus Illinois this weekend

Notre Dame’s dismantling of NU is troublesome, considering the Cats are in the thick of their conference season, meaning there is zero time to step back and recover.

Luckily for the Cats, their next opponent is Illinois (12-13, 2-4 Big Ten), a program not at the top of the conference, nor much different than NU’s last-weekend opponent Purdue in terms of record. On top of that, the Cats will host their first home series of the year — a chance to get an extra boost from the favoring crowd.

Hopefully, NU can put the Tuesday game in the rearview mirror quickly and find its groove like it did in its three wins on the season.

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