A split of the first eight games of his first season as coach of Northwestern baseball must have been a nice surprise for Spencer Allen. In its first two weekend series of the year, Northwestern went 2-2 against both Nevada and Pacific in Arizona and California, respectively.
However, Northwestern didn't fare as well this weekend in the Snowbird Classic, held in Port Charlotte, Fla. The Wildcats (4-8) played four different teams in three days and lost all four games, three of which were decided by three runs or less.
Game 1 on Friday was against Division II Saint Leo, a school located about 35 miles from Tampa. Walk-on Dan Kubiuk—who is also a quarterback on the Northwestern football team—got his first collegiate start against the Lions and went 4 innings, allowing just 2 hits and 1 unearned run. Josh Davis followed him up with 2 hitless innings before things fell apart for Tyler Lass in the 7th.
Northwestern had scored one run in each of the 4th, 5th and 6th innings against Saint Leo starter Andrew Cohen to take a 3-1 lead. But in the 7th, Lass gave up 3 hits and got only 2 outs, allowing a run apiece on a wild pitch and a double by third baseman Chase Turner. Cooper Wetherbee relieved Lass and shut the rally down but the Wildcats couldn't get anything going the rest of the day against the Lions' Shane Haight. In the 9th, Justin Yoss allowed Saint Leo to tack on 2 runs on sacrifice flies and, in the bottom half, Northwestern's bats remained quiet to seal a 5-3 victory for the Lions.
Saturday featured two more close losses for the Wildcats, against Boston College and Butler. Reed Mason put together a second-straight start for Northwestern in the first game against BC, giving up just 2 runs (1 earned) in 5+ innings. The Wildcats scored the game's first 2 runs, in the 1st and 6th, on an RBI double from junior Joe Hoscheit and a run-scoring single from freshman Ben Dickey.
But Mason ran into trouble in the bottom of the 6th against the undefeated Eagles and, before the frame was over, Boston College tied up the score at 2. Tommy Bordignon righted the ship the ship until the 8th, when he was roughed up for 4 runs (3 earned) in his first ineffective outing of the young season. Back-to-back hits from Joe Cronin and Gian Martellini plated three runners before a wild pitch made it 6-2. The Wildcats got a run back in the 9th on a RBI single from Jack Dunn but couldn't get any more across, dropping the contest 6-3.
In the second game of the day against Butler, Northwestern trailed for much of the high-scoring affair but was down 9-7 in the bottom of the 9th. Then, against Bulldogs' closer Zach Barnes, the Wildcats mounted a rally -- started with a single by Zach Jones -- to knot proceedings at 9 and send the game to extras. The run-scoring hits were consecutive doubles from Joe Hoscheit and Matt Hopfner to score Jones and Hoscheit.
Jake Stolley, who pitched the 8th and 9th, ran into some trouble in the 10th and was relieved by none other than Hopfer. He did a nice job in coaxing Jordan Lucio into a flyout to right field, but it was deep enough to allow Nick Bartolone to beat a throw from RJ Watters and put Butler ahead 10-9. The Wildcats couldn't even it up in the bottom half, leading to a third-straight close loss.
Sunday's game against in-state foe Illinois State wasn't as close as the ones preceding it down in Port Charlotte, as Wetherbee got the start and was roughed up for 4 runs (3 earned) in his 3.2 innings. Northwestern, thanks to back-to-back-to-back RBI singles in the 4th by Jack Claeys, Connor Lind and Willie Bourbon, was down just 4-3 after the 4th.
That's when things got out of hand. After a scoreless 5th from Danny Katz, the Redbirds scored 6 runs in the next three innings with 3 (all unearned) coming against Katz and 3 more against Yoss in the 8th. Northwestern's only run the rest of the day came in the 7th when Dunn scored on a wild pitch, so it went down as a 10-4 defeat for the Wildcats.
It was a rough weekend for Northwestern, which started the season relatively well. The common thread in each of the four losses was poor defensive play; the Wildcats committed 10 errors in four games, with at least 2 in each contest. For a team—with the indefinite suspension of starter Joe Schindler—with a relatively limited pitching staff, defense is going to need to be stellar if Spencer Allen's team is to be competitive. This weekend, it was far from that, and four losses predictably followed.
Northwestern's next game is this Tuesday at UIC in a matchup that was originally scheduled for last Wednesday but was postponed for weather-related reasons. Later in the week, on Thursday, Northwestern will head to Southern California for a four-game set with traditional powerhouse San Diego State. However, the Aztecs are just 2-10 so far this season but boast a lot of talent and regularly produce MLB players, such as the late Tony Gwynn, former Cub Mark Grace, Stephen Strasburg and current Met Addison Reed.