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Baseball: David Dunn and the Wildcats prepped for crucial road series against No. 20 Duke

With its speedy centerfielder back in the fold, Northwestern has the opportunity to make a statement against a program it tries to emulate.

Northwestern Athletics

Nearly one year ago, David Dunn had his coming out party.

The freshman center fielder went 4-for-4 with a triple, two RBIs and a stolen base, playing an instrumental role in NU’s 6-2 upset victory over the No. 23 Texas Longhorns.

But that Texas series in early March would be the last time Dunn saw the field in 2018. He missed the remainder of the season with an injury — his promising rookie season cut short.

Dunn was the Wildcats’ best player to start 2018. He started all ten games of his rookie season, hitting .324 overall with three triples, two stolen bases, and no errors in the outfield.

In that short time, Dunn officially stepped onto the college stage, making it known immediately that he didn’t come to Northwestern just to be Jack’s little brother.

He came to Evanston to make a name for himself.

“Being injured made me look forward to this season even more,” Dunn told media earlier this week. “Getting back out there [this weekend] was a lot of fun. It was a good moment for me.”

Dunn didn’t miss a beat in his return to the diamond this past weekend, picking up right where he left off in 2018 before his injury.

The redshirt freshman hit .364 in his three starts over the weekend and reached base safely in half of his plate appearances. A year after his injury, Dunn said he’s more comfortable on and off the diamond.

“[I think I’ve improved] on the mental side of things,” he said. “I understand that I have the ability in me to be a good college baseball player and having that confidence going into this year that I can build upon those ten games [from last season].”

Dunn can also gain extra confidence and comfort in another aspect of this 2019 Northwestern baseball team — family.

In addition to having his older brother Jack as the team’s senior shortstop, Dunn now has a cousin to add to the family lineage of Northwestern baseball; freshman catcher/outfielder Michael Trautwein.

“That’s my family’s dream, for us to all get on the same team,” Jack Dunn said.

Despite going 2-2 on the road over the weekend to start 2019 and showing flashes of promise, Dunn and Northwestern still have a long way to go in changing the culture of Northwestern baseball — a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament in over 60 years.

Since Spencer Allen took over in 2016, Northwestern has just a .370 winning percentage on the road (30-51), and has been embarrassed time and time again in some painstakingly bad performances.

Just last year, the Wildcats were outscored 38-11 in the final three games of the Texas series, were swept by a total margin of 40-4 in three games at Indiana, and perhaps worst of all, suffered a 26-15 loss at Western Michigan (yes, you read that scoreline right).

With a series against a nationally ranked Duke team (4-0) set to get underway in Durham on Friday, David Dunn and the rest of the Northwestern team have the perfect opportunity to make a statement and show that this year’s NU team is truly different from past ones. The Blue Devils also provide an important measuring stick for NU.

“Duke is the model we want to try to follow,” Coach Allen said. “They’re in a tough league, academic school, there’s probably not a better comparison. They’re the model that we’re trying to follow and ultimately beat this weekend.”

The Blue Devils had a 55-year postseason drought before reaching the NCAA tournament in 2016. Last year, Duke made it all the way to the Super Regional round before following to Texas Tech in three games.

The Northwestern offense will be challenged this weekend as it goes up against one of the top pitching staffs in the country, including left-hander Graeme Stinson, a top-10 2019 draft prospect.

Northwestern will counter with Hank Christie, Sam Lawrence and Quinn Lavelle on Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively.

The Northwestern-Duke series gets underway this afternoon, with the first pitch set for 3 p.m CST. All games will be streamable live on WatchESPN or available for radio broadcast through WNUR Sports.