Northwestern baseball head coach Spencer Allen stressed the importance of getting off to a good start in the 2017 season. So far, through six games, that message has fallen on deaf ears.
The Wildcats (0-6) dropped all three games of this weekend’s Mule Mix Classic, with losses to Middle Tennessee, Belmont and Lipscomb. After a season-opening sweep at Arizona State in which Northwestern was relatively competitive, the pitching staff struggled to keep the Wildcats in any of the games down in Tennessee.
In Murfreesboro against the Blue Raiders on Friday, Northwestern staked No. 1 starter Joe Schindler with an early 3-0 lead. Jake Schieber scored on a wild pitch in the 3rd and freshman Alex Erro cranked his first collegiate home run, a two-run shot to left, in the 4th.
After three scoreless innings and an impressive outing in Phoenix, Schindler fell apart in the bottom of the 4th. The Blue Raiders mounted an extended two-out rally, aided by a Schindler throwing error, that chased the Wildcats’ ace and wound up driving in eight runs. Pete Hofman and Sam Lawrence were also hit hard in relief, but Schindler took the brunt of the damage and was charged with four of the runs as Middle Tennessee took a commanding 8-3 lead.
The home team would add insurance runs in the 5th, 6th and 8th, and Northwestern wasn’t able to mount much of a resistance offensively, going on to lose 11-4. The Wildcats scattered eight hits throughout the day as Jake Wyrick went six effective innings to earn the win and Caleb Smith notched a three-inning save. Schindler earned the loss to fall to 0-2 on the season.
Things weren’t much easier in Saturday’s game in Nashville against Belmont. A 1st inning two-run home run by Brennan Washington off Northwestern’s Hank Christie gave the Bruins a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Christie and Richard Fordon combined to allow four more runs in the 4th — partially due to some shoddy fielding — which made it 6-0 Belmont.
Northwestern got on the board in the 8th with a Mat Jones sacrifice fly that drove in Matt Hopfner. However, that would be the Wildcats’ only run as they managed just six hits in the 6-1 loss. A bright spot was freshman Matt Gannon, who tossed four much-needed shutout innings in relief of Fordon.
Like in the loss to Middle Tennessee, Northwestern scored the first couple of runs on Sunday against Lipscomb, taking a 2-0 lead on RBI groundouts by Jack Claeys and Jack Dunn in the top of the 2th.
The lead wouldn’t last long, though, as Tommy Bordignon — making his season debut — gave up six runs in the bottom of the inning with Lipscomb going ahead 6-2. Bordignon, in 1 2⁄3 innings, gave up four hits and four walks in addition to the runs (five of which were earned). Josh Levy provided much needed relief for the next 3 1⁄3 innings, allowing just one run in the 3rd.
Lipscomb added a pair of runs in the 6th off JR Reimer as the Wildcats’ offense stayed quiet until the 7th, when a bases-loaded rally culminated in a Hopfner grand slam. But, that would be the extent of Northwestern’s run production the rest of the way, as Lipscomb took the game by a score of 10-6.
The combination of isolated blowups by the pitching staff and the offense’s inability to build and sustain rallies is not a good one, and it’s something the Wildcats will need to limit next weekend when they head out west to take on Santa Clara.
With a Saturday doubleheader in that series, Northwestern will have four chances to garner a first win before the Wildcats head home for a home game against UIC on March 7th.