This past weekend the Northwestern baseball team opened its season, escaping the cold by traveling to Florida to compete in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The three-day, three-city tour saw the Wildcats go 1-2 after a win against Pitt and losses to West Virginia and Seton Hall.
Fresh Start in Florida
The Wildcats began the weekend with a Friday morning matchup against West Virginia. Sophomore outfielder Nick Linne collected three hits while freshman outfielder Luke Dauch, junior outfielder Jack Havey, redshirt junior Zach Morton and sophomore shortstop Kyle Ruchim added two hits each. Still, their efforts weren’t enough to salvage the victory; West Virginia captured a 7-3 win, powered by a two-run first inning and a three-run ninth inning.
On Saturday, the Wildcats snagged a 12-11 win in a 10-inning thriller against the Pitt Panthers. Freshman pitcher Brandon Magallones earned his first college victory, while Linne added three more hits and senior first baseman Paul Snieder drove in four runs to power the ‘Cats. The game ended emphatically as Ruchim struck out the side to close the ballgame and earn his first save of the season.
After Saturday’s triumph, the ballclub took on Seton Hall. A six-run fourth inning for the Pirates doomed the Wildcats and the game ended in a 6-3 Seton Hall triumph. Senior catcher Geoff Rowan collected three hits and Snieder drove in two more runs to pace the Wildcats offensively.
Potential for Greatness
Despite the weekend’s two setbacks, this season appears to have the potential to be quite successful. The outlook is positive, as the team returns offensive threats from last year’s 20-29 campaign in Snieder, Havey, Ruchim, Morton, sophomore Jack Livingston and seniors Trevor Stevens and Chris Kontos. Stevens and Ruchim head the top of the batting order, so they can set the table for the offense and be relied on to get on base. As the team’s best power-hitters, Snieder and Havey are the biggest threats in the middle of the order. Overall, the Wildcat offense is balanced and looks for contributions from all nine starters.
Snieder, Stevens and Morton are returning all-Big Ten performers and Havey, Ruchim and Livingston are each former all-Big Ten Freshman team honorees. Additionally, Linne and Dauch have been consistent early contributors at the plate, and freshman Reid Hunter has been used in pinch-hit situations off the bench to provide a spark for the offense.
On the mound, returning standouts include Luke Farrell, Michael Jahns and Francis Brooke, the three most experienced pitchers on the squad. Jack Quigley, Ethan Bramschreiber, Henry Brooke, Brandon Magallones and Dan Tyson will also be called upon to contribute to the pitching staff, while two-way players Snieder, Morton and Ruchim can have an impact on the mound as well as at the plate.
This past summer, Ruchim was honored as a first-team All-American for his efforts as a member of the Glens Falls Golden Eagles of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. He posted a 3-0 record and nine saves, and he struck out an impressive 43 batters in 22 innings.
The Wildcats will complete their non-conference schedule during the months of February and March, highlighted by trips to Cal State Northridge and series with area schools UIC and St. Xavier. The team’s Big Ten opener will be played at Iowa on March 23, and the home opener is March 30 against new Big Ten opponent and perennial powerhouse Nebraska.
The Big Ten slate includes key series at home against defending Big Ten Tournament champions Illinois April 27 through 29 in addition to road series against strong Ohio State and Indiana teams in May.
Although the team is relatively young, there is a lot of potential. With Stevens and Ruchim leading the charge, Snieder and Havey knocking in runs, and a deep pitching staff, Rocky Miller Park should be home to a lot of exciting baseball this spring.