Northwestern Baseball Preview: vs Milwaukee and UIC

Before its first home series of the Big Ten season, Northwestern (11-26 overall) baseball christens the newly renovated Rocky Miller Park tomorrow afternoon against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers. The next day, the Wildcats host the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) Flames to Evanston for a matchup of Cook County programs.

After beating UIC at Curtis Granderson Stadium in Chicago last Tuesday by a score of 4-3, Northwestern spent the weekend in Iowa City and lost two of three games in a tough conference series with the Iowa Hawkeyes, currently the 14th-ranked team in the country.

On Friday, following eight innings of one-run baseball from Brandon Magallones, the senior fell apart in the ninth and lost the lead his team built for him by allowing a three-run rally to Iowa, which walked off with the 4-3 win. The next day, in the first half of a Saturday doubleheader, NU got its revenge in a 4-1 win on the strength of 7 1/3 solid innings in which he allowed just one run before Reed Mason entered to save the 4-1 victory.

However, later that day, the Hawkeyes ran away with the least-competitive game of the series as they easy won 13-4 in a drubbing of the Wildcats. Matt Portland got roughed up for seven runs in his four innings of work and NU’s bullpen didn’t provide much relief, giving up six more before the day was done.

Tomorrow’s game against UW-Milwaukee (22-12) and Wednesday’s against UIC (18-15-1) should get a little easier, but they’re still far from guaranteed wins for the struggling Wildcats, who could use as many good signs as they can get in this trying season.

The Panthers have won five games in a row, including a weekend sweep of Youngstown State, and have surpassed 15 runs in two of their last four contests. Northwestern, with a team ERA of 5.69 over 2.3 runs higher than NU’s opposing ERA of 3.30, is neither a particularly good pitching or hitting team so giving up 10+ runs to Milwaukee would make getting a win a difficult proposition. Milwaukee’s best player is senior outfielder Sam Koenig, who is leading the Panthers with a .420 average, eight homers and 34 RBI, all of which are team-bests.

UIC, winners of two of three after a road series win this past weekend at Valparaiso, is led by senior first baseman Jeff Boehm, who is batting .331 on the year (second on his team) with a team-high six home runs–four more than the next highest amount on UIC–and 42 RBI. He’s also slugging an impressive .567 in his 127 at-bats. Clearly, NU’s biggest obstacle to a win on Wednesday is Boehm, and the Wildcats’ pitchers need to get him out if they’re going to shut the Flames down.

It’ll be interesting to see how these two games go as Northwestern winds down another presumably postseason-less campaign. Mostly, it would be nice for NU to get some non-conference momentum before Big Ten foes such as Ohio State, Nebraska and Maryland come to Evanston. But the two midweek matchups provide a chance to see how the new Rocky Miller Park plays in its first two games, which could play a role in how the rest of the year plays out.

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