Baseball: 18-5 loss Sunday caps off Nebraska’s sweep of Northwestern, NU’s third three-game sweep of the season


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Graduate catcher Cooper Foard looks out into the stands during his at-bat. The catcher was one of the Cats’ few sparks in their series against Nebraska, hitting the first home run of the series Friday.

Lawrence Price, Sports Editor

After winning its first series of the season versus Illinois last weekend, Northwestern sank back to the opposite end of the spectrum against the Big Ten leader in Nebraska, getting swept in a three-game series — its third three-game series sweep of the season.

Nearly nothing fell in the Wildcats’ (5-25, 3-6 Big Ten) favor during its trip to the Cornhuskers (21-11-1, 7-2 Big Ten), losing the first two contests by five and seven runs, respectively, and by 13 in the Sunday finale. The 18-5 loss comes in as the fourth-most runs NU has surrendered in a contest this season, following the 24 runs it gave up to Illinois-Chicago on Tuesday.

To spare readers from scanning a disappointing recap, here’s three takeaways to put this series in the past as quickly as possible: 

  1. Mound continues to be Cats’ worst enemy

9.13. That was NU’s ERA before their last contest — the 15th worst in all of Division I and without a doubt the worst in the conference. Illinois is second-to-last when it comes to that category, but is miles away from this dismal figure.

And the Cats’ weekend series versus the Cornhuskers underscored their high ERA, giving up nearly 12 runs per contest — 35 in total, to be exact. NU hasn’t been able to find consistency throughout its starting rotation and bullpen the entire season, headlined by hot-and-cold outings. 

The right-handed trio of juniors Matt McClure and Luke Benneche and graduate Michael Farinelli has struggled to be in sync or produce back-to-back solid outings on the mound. For instance, Farinelli’s performance against Purdue two weekends ago led to the Cats’ lone victory in West Lafayette, Indiana, yet he has given up a combined 13 runs in his last two outings. 

Of course, no pitcher is going to bring his best stuff every day. But with a bullpen that has continually struggled, on top of holding the worst batting average in the Big Ten, a successful start on the mound is of the utmost importance. 

  1. An eye for an eye: Cornhuskers are arguably the best team in the Big Ten

Although another sweep won’t sit well for anyone inside the Cats’ program, NU was never favored to down the Cornhuskers — the conference’s best team currently and a consistent Men’s College World Series attendee. Not to mention, the Cats’ loss to UIC on Tuesday made matters and odds even worse entering the weekend.

Nebraska’s 2023 fortune is exactly what NU is currently lacking. Before their most recent contest, the Cornhuskers held the second-best batting average (.316) and ERA (4.44) in the Big Ten, alongside the best fielding percentage (98.1).

With only five wins in the 2023 campaign, it’s clear that NU still hasn’t found its identity as a team and a groove to get going, emphasizing why playing the best team in the conference wasn’t ideal. 

The Cats weekend trip wasn’t successful, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all.

  1. There’s a possibility NU doesn’t win another series this season 

The season isn’t over for the Cats. But looking ahead, success may continue to be a difficult result to come by. 

With three conference series in the rearview mirror, coach Jim Foster and his squad still have five Big Ten series to go before the conference tournament — a positive in all of the madness. However, each future opponent could give NU more fits. 

Two of these battles will be against Indiana and Michigan State, who hold the second- and third-best conference records, respectively. The three other opponents in Rutgers, Michigan and Iowa sit in the middle of the pack, but they have seen much more success than the Cats. The Scarlet Knights, NU’s next series matchup, held a five-game win streak before its last contest, while the Hawkeyes, its last regular-season series opponent, flex the best overall record in the Big Ten.

To say the Cats won’t win another series for the rest of their 2023 campaign may be a stretch. But after taking a step back to scan the playing field, it’s definitely a possibility. 

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