Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Baseball: Northwestern loses weekend series in a sweep by No. 12 Duke

Daily file photo by Anna Watson
Senior right-hander Matt McClure throws a pitch against Tulane last weekend.

Northwestern returned to the South this weekend, facing No. 12 Duke in a series of challenging play at the tree-lined Jack Coombs Field.

Characterized by bursts of visiting momentum and consistent power-hitting by opponents, the Blue Devils (7-0, 0-0 ACC) ultimately swept the series with a final 20-9 loss for the Wildcats (1-5, 0-0 Big Ten) Sunday.

Despite a tough battle against the Top 25 team, there were a few silver linings in NU’s visit to North Carolina. 

Senior left-handed pitcher Nolan Morr continued to be an asset to the pitching staff in game one of the series, going seven innings with seven strikeouts and zero walks. The Connecticut native didn’t allow any hits for five consecutive innings.

Sophomore infielder Owen McElfatrick also proved to be a playmaker on both sides of the ball. 

McElfatrick was the bat that started the ’Cats off Sunday afternoon, sending himself and sophomore infielder Trent Liolios across the plate with his first homerun of the season. The NU returner also put away four Duke runners as shortstop on Saturday, matching his previous season high for putouts at Indiana.

In the end, though, a trend of painfully long offensive innings for Duke would tip the scale throughout the series. At times, the Blue Devils gained leads ranging anywhere from seven to 17 runs ahead of the ’Cats.

There’s no denying that Duke is a weapon: the Blue Devils are ranked No.12 in the country for a reason. But, pitching limitations and defensive fielding troubles from NU widened the gap between a potential single victory for the ‘Cats and a series sweep for Duke. 

Morr was able to shut out the Blue Devils for most of Friday after early scores that resulted in a 2-0 loss for NU, but subsequent pitching struggles are likely to blame for the mayhem ensued in the following games.

It was, to say the least, a long weekend for those who were hoping to see the ‘Cats build on their momentum from the Tulane series. 

Here are three things to takeaway from NU’s less than ideal trip to Durham.

  1. Offensive sparks need to become full-on fires.

The ‘Cats have an incredibly capable lineup of hitters, but struggle to make it past home.

Graduate left-fielder Tyler Ganus continued to set the tone at the top of the batting order, bringing energy, four hits and two doubles to the series. Junior infielder Bennett Markinson maintained his opening streak and has hit for six straight games, while senior infielder Vince Bianchina and sophomore catcher Lorenzo Rios have also shown promise at the plate.

Yet, still, NU scored only 11 total runs this weekend in comparison to a hefty 30 by Duke. 

Though they faced powerful pitchers in the Blue Devils’ Johnathan Santucci and Andrew Healy, the ‘Cats must improve the consistency of their hitting if they hope to triumph against conference powerhouses like Purdue and Penn State later in the season.

  1. A lack of pitching depth will continue to cause problems.

Morr’s performance in the opening game solidified him as a defensive pillar for NU. However, after his arm wears out, the power of the ’Cats’ pitching lineup dwindles quickly.   

Those pitching limitations proved to be a very real problem against Duke, whose skilled bats took advantage of every instance of weakness from NU pitchers. Between a rotation of six pitchers on Sunday, nine Duke players were walked and 19 runs were earned, raising the team ERA for the game to 12.86.

Senior right-handed pitcher Luke Benneche has also thrown consistently this season — allowing only one run of Saturday’s eight — but at least two more strong arms will be needed in order to ease NU’s pitching pains moving forward.

  1. First-inning flashes of action must last.

Explosive early action is becoming a trend in NU’s play, with the ’Cats getting on the board in the first-inning of four of their past six games.

First-inning hits by Ganus and Markinson in the opening game and an early homer by McElfatrick on Sunday all started a fire under NU’s offense –– but that flame unfortunately died down as each respective game went on.

The ‘Cats did not respond to 20 Duke runs until their eighth and final appearance at-bat on Sunday, bringing in six admirable runs that left fans wondering where that energy was in the seven prior innings.

The fact remains that the NU momentum is fun to watch but ultimately fleeting. Endurance improvements will be key for a successful 2024 campaign. Evidence of a talented and capable roster under coach Ben Greenspan is clear, but cause for celebration still depends upon the team’s ability to add a strong finish onto their promising play.

Next up, the ‘Cats will take on Illinois State at Miller Park Tuesday for their first home appearance of the season. 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @GenaSports

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