On the last weekend of the regular season, in its last home Big Ten series, the Northwestern pitching staff turned things up a notch.
On Thursday, Senior Brandon Magallones delivered the best performance of the season for an Northwestern pitcher. Magallones went 9 innings, struck out 7, and allowed only three base runners. To illustrate just how dominant Magallones was on the afternoon, after giving up his only walk of the day, he immediately picked off the runner to end the inning. The Wildcat offense managed a single run in the fifth, and it was enough for a series opening victory.
On Saturday, Matt Portland and Joke Stolley combined to limit Maryland to two runs, only one of them earned. The offense again delivered just enough runs for a 3-2 win. With two one-run victories, Northwestern won their first Big Ten series since they opened league play with two victories at Minnesota.
Playing with house money on Saturday, Northwestern led for 8 innings before falling in another one run game, 4-3. Despite the loss on senior day, it was a great weekend for the team and their fans.
(As a side note, the Northwestern University Marching Band was in attendance for the last game. While the full band was fun, the drum section, which stayed a few extra innings, was spectacular. I now think every baseball game should have a drum line to play between innings. If anyone has pull with the band or Jim Phillips, please make this happen.)
Northwestern finished the season with an 18-36 record and an 8-16 mark in the conference. With only 8 teams qualifying for the Big Ten tournament, the ‘Cats fell two games short in tenth place, bringing their season to a close.
Kyle Ruchim, Scott Heelan, and Brandon Magallones will be tough to replace after they graduate this year, but the ‘Cats have some players ready to step up. Zach Jones and Matt Portland both had strong junior seasons and should fill some of the lost production in the lineup and on the mound.
With coach Paul Stevens headed to retirement and Rocky Miller Park under continued renovation, NU baseball will look very different next year. Eventually, that needs to mean more wins, as the program has not finished over .500 since 2000.
I want to give a big thank you to Steve and Libby for making one of my dreams come true on Saturday. In the first inning, I was minding my own business, sitting on the back railing by the visiting radio broadcast team, when these two members of the promotions staff asked if I was interested in participating in a putting challenge. I didn’t need to hear the prize to say yes, I was just excited to get a close look at the field.
After the fourth inning, I was led onto the beautiful new playing surface at Rocky Miller Park and given three chances to putt a baseball with a plastic putter sized for a second grader into a hole roughly the size of a baseball, placed on an incline. It was a hard gig, and I missed all three, although my last was considerably closer than my first, so I feel good about that.
I wish Steve and Libby all the best in their sports marketing careers, and would like to thank them for giving me an opportunity to hear my name over the PA system. Two fine human beings.
Walk-up Song of the Week:
Kyle Ruchim, "Can’t Tell Me Nothing" by Kanye West.
Ruchim, a redshirt senior this year, played the whole season at a new position. A second baseman and pitcher for most of his career, he switched to centerfield this season and did not commit an error while executing a few spectacular plays. The athletic ability and baseball knowledge it takes to switch positions, and still turn in such a successful season, are rare traits.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Ruchim led the ‘Cats starters in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. In addition, he led Northwestern in home runs and runs while only playing in 36 games because of an NCAA sanction and an injury. In light of his illustrious career, I imagine there is little Coach Stevens could tell him at this point to improve his game.
The sanction from the NCAA came because Ruchim talked to an agent last year after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. Ruchim eventually decided not to sign a professional contract and came back to play his last year of eligibility. With his season complete, there is nothing more the NCAA can say to Ruchim as well.
The first line of "Can’t Tell Me Nothing" says, "Wait ‘til I get my money right." Ruchim decided to play out his collegiate eligibility and wait to get his money. After a season that highlighted his ability to play all over the diamond, and showed his ability to hit for both average and power, Ruchim stands to make a lot more money than he would have last year.
Thank you to all of you who followed Northwestern baseball here on Inside NU this season. It has been my absolute pleasure to cover this team and your encouraging and thoughtful comments throughout the season made this the best job on campus. With the MLB season in full swing, I hope there will be enough baseball to fill the void until the Wildcats open a new era at Rocky Miller Park in 2016.