Baseball: Northwestern’s rally in ninth-inning fails against Milwaukee, slims chances of homestretch success


Daily file photo by Ziye Wang

Junior right-hander Matt McClure finishes after the pitch. The starter was dominated in his outing against Milwaukee on Tuesday, giving up zero hits over two innings even though the team lost.

Lawrence Price, Sports Editor

Northwestern’s past weekend series against Indiana brought positives and negatives: getting swept, finding potential in starting pitching, competitiveness and offensive production. However, none were present Tuesday against Milwaukee.

NU’s (8-35, 3-15 Big Ten) performance versus the Panthers (22-24, 10-13 Horizon) made their outings against the Hoosiers look like optical illusions, losing 3-2 after a late-game rally failure.

With two conference series remaining and one non-conference matchup down at Wrigley Field next Tuesday, here are three takes to think about as the Cats near the homestretch.

1. Starting pitching beginning to turn it around, leaving bullpen in the dust

Outside of junior right-hander Luke Benneche’s nine-run performance on Sunday, the backbone of NU’s pitching staff has been the starters — dating back to UIC on May 2.

After receiving the weekend off, junior right-handed pitcher Matt McClure diced up the Panthers lineup Tuesday. In two innings of work, McClure sat down all six batters, including a strikeout.

The back-to-back combination of graduate student right-hander Ethan Sund and lefty Ryan Keenan knocked out the next two innings, highlighted by six strikeouts between the two. The next two, though, were when the train went off the rails, as freshman Drew Dickson and senior Jack Sauser — both right-handers — gave up two runs, and left-handed junior Nolan Morr gave up one more in the eighth.

Besides McClure, starters graduate student right-hander Michael Farinelli commanded the mound on Friday and left-handed freshman Sam Garewal on Saturday — together letting through just four earned runs over 14 innings. Of course, the starting rotation has still shown signs of being hot and cold at times, but the bullpen has treaded more in the latter’s side than the former.

2. Locked in lineup still struggling

As the season continues, coach Jim Foster’s everyday lineup, unlike weeks prior, has solidified itself — an advantage the team flexed against Milwaukee.

Yet, with most hitters ranging from over 80 at-bats to 140, NU’s dismal season at the plate dispels the optimism. Freshmen outfielders Marty Kaplan and Owen McElfatrick are the only consistent freshmen seeing the field down the stretch.

This failure was prominent against Milwaukee, as the Cats only collected five hits, two by sophomore infielder/catcher Alex Calarco. Most of the lineup won’t change for the rest of season with seven games left on the slate, but NU’s lackluster production hitting wise is nerve-racking — especially considering the team’s substantially better performance against Milwaukee two weeks ago.

3. May 2 may be an important day to remember

NU’s dominating victory over UIC 17-7 on May 2 was masterful. Each starter crossed the plate at least once, and all but one had a hit. Although seven runs were scored, Farinelli’s one inning of poise set the table for the clinic he put on Friday.

However, facing a rematch against Notre Dame — a team that shut NU out 12-0 in early April — the 10-run win may be the Wildcats’ last victory by the end of the season.

The Cats’ close contests versus the then-third best conference team in the Hoosiers last weekend turned over a new leaf in Evanston, proving NU wasn’t an easy team to beat — at least at home. However, the Panthers’ Horizon League hasn’t consistently sent teams to the NCAA Tournament like the Big Ten or ACC — so NU’s solid performance doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll excel going forward.

Although the Cats’ last two conference opponents on the schedule in Iowa and Michigan aren’t at the top of the totem like Indiana, after a tough loss to Milwaukee, the pendulum isn’t swinging in NU’s favor.

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