Fringe: noun, “the border or outer edges of an area or group.” This term is used often in sports, often linked with a team that is “almost” a contender, showing promise of skill and dominance, but falling just short of that fantastic plateau. In almost every sense of the term, Northwestern baseball (12-12, 7th B1G) can be perfectly described as a “fringe” team; as their recent series against Indiana (15-10, 3rd B1G) showed, they have the abilities to hang with the top dogs, but not to finish and come out on top.
Northwestern lost their second consecutive series last weekend, dropping two games to the Indiana Hoosiers in a tightly contested series. Indiana, who is currently ranked third in the Big Ten Standings and first in the conference in pitching, seemed to just be out of reach the entire series, winning their two victories by margins of 5-4 and 4-0, respectively.
The first game was tightly contested, showing skill from both teams and an almost-perfect comeback from Northwestern. The ’Cats sent junior right-hander Mike Doherty to the mound to duel against junior left-hander Tommy Sommer. Despite allowing two runs in the third, Doherty played well against the Hoosiers, keeping the ’Cats close most of the game; Sommer, however, was better, striking out five and allowing just five hits.
In the seventh, however, the game shifted from defensive schemes to slugfest; finally breaking Doherty, Indiana would chase him off the mound after scoring two runs on a double and sacrifice fly from first-year second-baseman Paul Toetz and first-year right-fielder Morgan Colopy, respectively. Northwestern first-year right-hander Garrett Boekle would allow another run to score on a single from Indiana sophomore designated hitter Tyler Van Pelt, and the ’Cats were down 5-0 in the seventh.
Matching the energy, however, Northwestern would score four runs of their own in bottom of the seventh, on singles from graduate right-fielder Leo Kaplan and junior first-baseman Anthony Calarco, as well as a two-run double from sophomore catcher Stephen Hrustich. Indiana, however, quickly slammed the door on the rally, and the ’Cats were unable to complete the comeback, losing the first game 5-4.
Hoping to snap a three-game losing streak, Northwestern sent out junior right-hander Tyler Uberstine for the middle game of a three game set versus Indiana. The game started as well as it possibly could for Northwestern, as the ’Cats built a solid 4-0 lead over the first three innings on two home runs from first-year second-baseman Vincent Bianchina. It didn’t last, however, as Uberstine conceded the lead, and allowed Indiana to tie the game at 4 before exiting after the 5th inning. Sophomore right-hander Reed Smith provided stellar support in relief over 2.1 innings, before finally allowing Indiana to break ahead with a 5-4 lead late in the game, with a single by junior left-fielder Drew Ashley.
The ’Cats, however, refused to quit. In response to Indiana’s go-ahead effort, the ’Cats responded with four eighth-inning runs of their own to win the game. First-year center fielder Ethan O’Donnell brought the magic with a go ahead single that netted him 2 RBIs and the ’Cats a 6-5 lead. It was all Northwestern from there, as they were able to add two more runs later in the inning. Graduate student left handed pitcher Sam Lawrence was able to close out the Hoosiers in the ninth to earn his first win of the season. Winning the second game 8-5, Northwestern was able to force a winner-take-all match on Sunday.
The rubber match on Sunday between the two teams was a fantastic showing… for the wrong team. Northwestern lost 4-0 on a fantastic showing from Indiana sophomore righty and Big Ten-leading pitcher Gabe Bierman, who struck out six batters over 7.2 shutout innings, allowing no hits for the first five innings, and just two overall. The hits were the only two Northwestern would knock off Indiana all day, coming from first-year third baseman Tony Livermore and Leo Kaplan. Indiana, buoyed by strong pitching, ran all the way to the victory.
In this series, Northwestern was led by first-year second-baseman Vincent Bianchina, who led the ’Cats with four hits, three runs, two RBIs and two home runs, and graduate right-fielder Leo Kaplan, who also knocked four hits and scored four runs. Despite fantastic offensive performances and the ability to go on offensive runs (as seen in Game 1 and Game 2), Northwestern is still hampered by their pitching; apart from Doherty and Uberstine, the ’Cats lack a good third-starter, and need to lock down games early on.
Northwestern now sits at 12 wins, 12 losses- a perfect split, winning 50% of their games- and is now ranked seventh in the Big Ten. They’ll get a chance to try different arms this weekend when they travel to Iowa City for two pairs of games; one against the Maryland Terrapins (13-12, 5th B1G), and another against the Iowa Hawkeyes (15-10, 4th B1G).
Let’s see if they can move in from the fringe.