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Baseball: Northwestern blows back-to-back leads, falls to 0-9 as coaching turmoil hits program

Still searching for win number one.

Northwestern Athletics

As if the 2023 season could not get any worse for Northwestern baseball, the third week of the season did not start nor end on the right foot.

On Feb. 27, D1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers reported that pitching coach Jon Strauss, director of operations Chris Beacom and hitting coordinator and recruiting coordinator Dusty Napoleon have stepped away from the program. While Inside NU has not independently confirmed the report, their departure would leave the ‘Cats with only head coach Jim Foster and volunteer coach Adrian Santiago as the last remaining members of the coaching staff. Napoleon and Beacom were rollovers from former Wildcats’ head coach Spencer Allen’s coaching staff, but Strauss was brought to Evanston by Coach Foster in the offseason after spending the past seven seasons in the same position for Baylor. While the reason for the three coaches stepping aside remains unknown, Inside NU will continue to monitor the story and have all the details when available.

On Tuesday morning, Northwestern baseball announced that former MLB relief pitcher Dennis Cook would be joining the coaching staff for the rest of the season. Cook, who spent 15 years in the pros, last served as the pitching coach for Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. Cook is expected to replace Strauss as the team’s pitching coach.

On the diamond, the rough start to the season continued for the Wildcats as they went down to Ruston, Louisiana for a three-game set against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Northwestern jumped on the board first in Game One when Stephen Hrustich brought Owen McElfatrick in from third on a sacrifice fly to left field; however, the lead was short-lived for NU when Ethan Bates, on LA Tech’s second at-bat of the game, took Michael Farinelli deep over the right field fence to put the Bulldogs on top 2-1. A sac fly by Alex Roessner tied the game at two in the top of the second inning, but it would be all Bulldogs after that. Farinelli lasted a mere 2.1 innings before LA Tech chased him from the game after putting up six runs.

It did not get any better for NU in the opener. The Bulldogs expanded their lead all the way to 13-2 through seven innings, and it was not until McElfatrick drilled an 0-1 pitch over the left field wall to bring NU’s deficit down to an even 10. The ‘Cats dropped the first game of the series 14-5, their fifth game losing by eight or more runs.

However, in the second game of the set, Northwestern looked like a completely different team than the one on the diamond 21 hours before. The Wildcats got off to a hot start, led by Alex Calarco. Calarco scored Keven Ferrer on a sac fly and tacked on two more runs on an RBI single up the middle to give NU a 3-0 lead through three innings. The Wildcats added one more when Cooper Foard smacked a double in the top of the fifth to expand the lead to 4-0.

The ‘Cats’ lead was not safe, though, as the Bulldogs battled back. After four scoreless innings, Matt McClure’s first pitch to Colton Hegwood was belted over the right field fence and cut the NU lead in half. Jorge Carona inched the Bulldogs even closer with a two-out, RBI single to make it 4-3 Northwestern through six innings. As the ‘Wildcats' offense could not scratch any more runs across the board, Dalton Davis led off the eighth inning with a solo shot to left field that tied the game at four.

In the same inning, the Bulldogs loaded the bases, but Nolan Morr struck Jeffrey Ince out swinging to keep the game tied heading into the ninth. Neither team capitalized in the ninth inning, and there was free baseball in Ruston. The Wildcats had a chance to break the tie in the top of the 11th inning, loading the bases, but a weak ground ball back to the pitcher by Hrustich made for an easy play at the plate to keep the game tied on a fielder's choice. With the bases still loaded, Calarco popped up into foul territory on the third-base side for the final out. In the bottom of the frame, the Bulldogs did not strand the runner in scoring position: Davis ripped a single down the left field line, scoring Bates from second to walk off the Wildcats 5-4.

It all but looked like Northwestern would pick up its first victory of the season on Sunday, but the ‘Cats’ collapse was one for the ages. The Wildcats’ bats came out of the game scalding and immediately did damage to take a massive lead. NU jumped out to a 6-0 advantage in the top of the first, highlighted by a two-run double by Foard. After Foard’s two-gapper gave the Wildcats a 4-0 lead, LA Tech pulled starter Reed Smith after 0.1 innings. However, the Bulldogs cut their deficit in half in the bottom of the first, yet Northwestern’s offense poured on another three runs in the top of the second to take a commanding 9-3 lead; however, it would be all home side for the next seven frames.

Louisiana Tech’s offense pummeled Luke Benneche and Sam Garewal. The Bulldogs erased the ‘Cats’ lead after a four-run third inning tied the game at nine. The runs continued to come in bunches for LA Tech, and Will Safford’s RBI groundout pushed the Bulldogs ahead 10-9; they did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.

In fact, LA Tech was not done punishing the pitchers in purple and white. Carona brought two more runs in on an RBI single in the fifth, capping off another multi-run inning and bolstering the Bulldogs' advantage to 12-9. LA Tech compiled three more for good measure; coupled with the Northwestern offense going cold, the ‘Cats were swept for the third weekend in a row, falling 15-9 in the final game of the three-game set.

The Wildcats are back in action today in Chicago to take on UIC. First pitch is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. CT.