Northwestern traveled to Arizona for the opening weekend of the college baseball season to play a three-game series against BYU and a single game against Cal. Here’s a brief recap of each game:
Friday: 4-3 loss vs. BYU
NU lost the first game of the season after squandering a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning and eventually falling in extra innings. Junior Hank Christie looked promising in his first start of the year (6.0 IP/3 H/1 ER/1 BB/4 K), but the end result was all too familiar from previous seasons with poor bullpen play plaguing the Wildcats down the stretch.
Saturday (game 1): 3-2 win vs. BYU
Junior Sam Lawrence impressed in his first career start (5.0. IP/2 H/0 ER/1 BB/5 K) and the Wildcats bullpen did just enough down the stretch to earn the team its first win of 2019. Nick Paciorek, who switched to a permanent bullpen role this season, pitched a scoreless ninth inning to notch his first-career save.
Saturday (game 2): 11-2 loss vs. BYU
The backend of Saturday’s doubleheader was one to forget for the Wildcats. Sophomore Ryan Bader earned the start, but lasted just three innings after giving up five earned runs on seven hits. Alex Erro’s solo HR and freshman Parker Hanks’ strong debut (2.0 IP/0 H/0 ER/0 BB/4 K) were the lone bright spots in this one.
Sunday: 9-5 win vs. Cal
Northwestern ended the weekend on a high note, handily defeating Cal despite going up against Andrew Vaughn, one of the most highly touted prospect in the country. Vaughn got the better of Wildcat pitchers (2 H/1 RBI/3 BB/2 R), but 14 NU hits (aided by six Cal errors) were enough to secure a comfortable Northwestern victory and finish the weekend back at .500
1. Willie Bourbon
Bourbon was Northwestern’s biggest threat at the plate throughout the entire weekend. The senior first baseman recorded five hits in 12 at-bats, walked six times, hit a home run, and tallied 3 RBIs. Bourbon batted cleanup in all four games, and NU will rely on him for run production at the plate if he can consistency produce like he did this weekend.
2. Fresh faces
Freshman Michael Trautwein showed his versatility this weekend, starting three games (two at catcher and one DH) and earning time as a pinch Hitter and a left fielder as well. Trautwein batted .273 with a pair of RBIs and was perfect behind the plate. He has emerged as the front-runner to start behind the plate over sophomore Jack Kelly (0-for-6 on the weekend) should Coach Allen choose to ride the hot hand in upcoming games.
Freshman reliever Parker Hanks also made a strong first impression in his Northwestern debut. The left-hander from Missouri tossed two scoreless innings and struck out four batters against a BYU offense that was rolling in the third game of the series.
3. Starting pitching
Northwestern got quality starts in three of four games this weekend, which should be seen as a positive given how mightily this team struggled on the mound last year. Excluding Ryan Bader’s doozy in Game 3, the other three starters (Christie/Lawrence/Lavelle) combined to allow just one earned run in 14.1 innings which should bode well for their confidence and the overall team morale moving forward.
The NU bullpen couldn’t close out what should’ve been a Wildcat win in Game 1 and also struggled down the stretch in Games 2 and 4 despite NU ultimately coming out on top. The bullpen combined for 13 walks in just over 18 total innings pitched on the weekend, which they’ll have to cut down if this staff has any chance in improving from last year.
2. Leo Kaplan
In the season preview, I mentioned Kaplan’s potential for a bounce back year in the DH role this year after batting just .209 in 2018. Although It’s still very early in the season, the junior won’t be happy with his 1-of-9 performance at the plate this weekend. His lone hit was a big one (2 RBI single to give NU the lead in Game 1), but he’ll have to offer more consistency going forward in order for this Northwestern to pose a scoring threat up-and-down the entire order.
3. Extra-base hitting
In his preseason press conference, Coach Allen emphasized the need for improved power hitting and specifically more singles turned into doubles in order for NU to create more run-scoring opportunities with less swings of the bat. He’ll be happy with the two solo shots from Erro and Bourbon, but excluding those two blasts, 30 of the NU’s other 32 total hits on the weekend were singles.
Next up for Northwestern is a trip to Durham for a three-game series against the Duke Blue Devils set to get underway on Friday afternoon. This weekend’s series should offer tougher competition for NU. Duke advanced to the 2018 NCAA super regionals last year and swept their opening series of the year against Lehigh.