Milestones and misfortunes.
Some things have gone right for head coach Jim Foster’s crew. The ’Cats nabbed the first win of Foster’s tenure against Butler (5-19, 0-0 Big East) on March 19, after a program-record 12-straight losses to open the season. The team also enjoyed a taste of home-field advantage, as after 18 games on the road, Northwestern won its home opener last Tuesday against Northern Illinois (5-19, 2-7 MAC).
The pressure of gaining the first win is finally off of the team’s back, but that doesn’t mean that Northwestern has shown it can turn this season around. The Wildcats were outscored 95-59 in the 10-game stretch following the Louisiana Tech series. Beyond graduate pitcher Michael Farinelli and third-year hurler Matt McClure, no pitcher has proved themselves to be a solidified part of the rotation. In the five games that Farinelli and McClure did not start, four different Wildcat arms started. Those pitchers sported a shared ERA of 8.25, compared to 6.85 from Farinelli and McClure in their last five. The Northwestern defense also committed 23 errors over the last 10 games, resulting in a total of 10 unearned runs. The pitching hasn’t been great, and the defense hasn’t helped in any regard either.
On the other end, Northwestern’s bats have started to heat up after a cold open to the season. Second-year catcher Alex Calarco didn’t get a hit until game number seven against Louisiana Tech, but ever since then he hasn’t looked back. Calarco has hit .410 since the Louisiana Tech series, alongside four RBI and four doubles. He’s started and appeared in the most games of any NU player, and is starting to justify it by claiming the team’s best batting average (.310) even with his paltry start to the season.
Graduate outfielder Griffin Arnone has emerged as one of the mainstays of the lineup, and has the hitting to show for it. Arnone is currently on a four-game hitting streak, and has a .455 slugging percentage, the best on the team. He also has the most strikeouts on the team, but a .258 batting average with an .802 OPS is more than enough to keep the transfer as a consistent starter.
While Calarco is enjoying a breakout season, and Arnone is making a claim to be the best newcomer, senior outfielder Stephen Hrustich’s veteran presence itself shines as brightly as any single on the roster. The team captain is in the midst of the best statistical season of his career so far, posting personal highs in batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.493), and stolen bases (4). His batting discipline has been exceptional, as he leads the team in walks (15) and OPS (.935). Hrustich chose to stick around while other quality players transferred out of the program last offseason, and so far he has been reaping the benefits.
While the rise of Calarco, Arnone and Hrustich is a sight for sore eyes, Northwestern baseball still has a long road ahead of them. And though the most recent 10-game stretch is an improvement on the games prior, the team lost four times the amount of games won. The ’Cats have a .105 winning percentage on the season, and start Big Ten play next weekend at Purdue. Every positive development is appreciated, but these steps forward have yet to contribute to consistent winning.