By: Will Greer
To call Northwestern baseball’s non-conference season a bumpy ride may be an understatement.
After 21 games in a total of eight cities, all not named Evanston, the ‘Cats are just 5-16. And to add to the disappointing record, NU has been playing without perhaps its best pitcher, opening day starter Joe Schindler, and its starting second baseman, Antonio Freschet. Both were suspended indefinitely in late February due to a violation of team rules.
The Spencer Allen era got off to a promising start as the ‘Cats completed a doubleheader sweep of Nevada, getting good pitching and timely hitting in a pair of wins.
Despite losing the final two games of the four-game set with the Wolf Pack, Northwestern carried a little bit of desert momentum into the next weekend, splitting a four-game series with Pacific. The ’Cats were by no means off to a stellar start, but a 4-4 record and some fairly competitive losses seemed like a more than fair place for Allen’s club to be.
But unfortunately for Allen and Northwestern, things have taken a turn for the worse. Northwestern is just 1-12 in its last 13 games, giving up eight runs per game while scoring less than five runs per contest.
The current skid includes a loss to Division II’s Saint Leo University, as well as an 0-5 combined record against Boston College, Butler and Cincinnati, all of whom were picked preseason to finish last place in their respective conferences.
While it’s tough to imagine first-year head coach Spencer Allen had this kind of start in mind, it’s not all bad news for the Wildcats.
Matt Hopfner headlines a better-than-average Northwestern offense, hitting .390 through 20 games. The .390 clip is good for the sixth best average in the Big Ten. Freshman Jack Dunn has also been a bright spot for the ‘Cats, batting .321 in 21 games. Dunn’s average ranks fourth highest among Big Ten freshmen.
The front end of a Joe Schindler-less rotation has also been solid for Northwestern. Sophomore Dan Kubiuk has a 3.18 ERA through three starts, and senior Reed Mason has a similarly strong 3.28 ERA in five starts.
But if Northwestern is to turn around what has been an unquestionably disappointing season thus far, the bottom of the lineup will have to increase its offensive production, the defense will have to decrease its current average of more than an error per game, and the pitching staff will have to improve its ability to limit damage and escape tough situations.
It’s certainly not too late to salvage the 2016 campaign but, as Big Ten play opens tomorrow evening at Ohio State, the Wildcats need to start playing better baseball quickly if Allen’s first year at the helm is to be a successful one.
If the ‘Cats aren’t able to turn things around on the field, however, the opening of new and improved Rocky and Berenice Miller Park next Wednesday afternoon will surely provide a spark of excitement. WNUR Sports will have the call of the Wildcats’ home opener, as Northwestern takes on Chicago State at 3 pm.