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    Northwestern Drops Heartbreaker to Ball State at Snowbird Classic

    Feb. 23, 2014

    Game Photo
    Ball State Ball State 5, Northwestern 4
    Snowbird Classic • North Charlotte Regional Park • Port Charlotte, Fla.

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    PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Northwestern led for most of its final ballgame at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sunday, but Ball State struck for two runs in the bottom of the ninth to complete its comeback and win, 5-4.

    The Cardinals scored one run in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth to erase an earlier three-run deficit and pick up their sixth win of the season. Northwestern went 2-2 on its trip to the Sunshine State and is now 2-5 on the young season.

    The Wildcats got to Ball State starting pitcher Clay Manering for the first time in the top of the third inning. Cody Stevens reached on a fielder's choice and he motored over to third base when Walker Moses doubled to left field. Catcher Scott Heelan then muscled a double to deep left-center field to drive in both runners and give Northwestern a 2-0 advantage.

    NU's starting pitcher, sophomore Reed Mason, made quick work of the Cardinals in the bottom of the third inning and the bats went back to work in the top of the fourth. Reid Hunter kicked it off with a one-out single to right field and he moved up 90 feet when Matt Hopfner followed him with a base hit up the middle. Designated hitter Jake Straub was then hit by a pitch to load the bases ahead of third baseman Nick Linne. The senior drove a single into left field that brought Hunter home and gave the 'Cats a 3-0 lead.

    Ball State put together its first serious threat in the bottom of that inning. The Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs, but Mason got ahead in the count against Cole Griesinger and buried the right fielder with big breaking ball to notch his second punch-out of the inning and his sixth of the ballgame.

    The Cardinals finally broke through for a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth inning against Mason and the Wildcats. Sean Godfrey singled through the hole on the right side with one away to open the frame. The center fielder made it to third when the next hitter, Ryan Spaulding, hit a fielder's choice, but Mason's throw missed Hunter at second base. Godfrey scored on a single by Brandon Estep and Spaulding later scored on a sacrifice fly. Mason struck out pinch hitter Sean Kennedy to end the inning and keep the lead in tact for the 'Cats. It was the seventh strike out of the game for the Solana Beach, Calif., native, marking a new career high.

    Ethan Bramschreiber came out of the bullpen to relieve Mason in the bottom of the sixth. The senior walked the first batter he faced, but got a strikeout, ground out and a fly out to get off the mound unscathed. The Glendora, Calif., native worked an efficient 1-2-3 seventh inning to set the stage for the hitters once again.

    NU first baseman Zach Jones started the parade with his first collegiate triple to right centerfield. Two batters later, Hunter laced a two-bagger down the line in left to score Jones easily and give Northwestern a 4-2 lead. Hunter made third abse on a single by Hopfner, but he could not score before the Cardinals worked out of the jam.

    Ball State's first two batters in the bottom of the eighth inning reached safely and NU head coach Paul Stevens summoned right-handed pitcher Jack Livingston out of the bullpen. Livingston got the first two outs before pinch hitter Caleb Slayton skied a ball to shallow center field that fell in between the converging Wildcats; Alex Maloney scored on the play to slice BSU's deficit to a run. Livingston then fanned Godfrey and a big breaking ball to end the eighth.

    Northwestern went down in order in the top of the ninth inning against the reigning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Week, reliever Zach Plesac. Livingston struck out Spaulding to begin the frame, but the Cardinals rallied for three consecutive hits, a single, triple and single, to plate the go-ahead and winning runs.

    Hunter and Hopfner led Northwestern with two hits apiece on getaway day. Hunter is batting a robust .615 (8-for-13) with four extra-base hits, five RBI and five runs scored for Northwestern. Through two weeks as a collegian, Hopfner is batting .500 (11-for-22) with a double and five RBI.

    As a team, NU is batting .297 on the season. The Wildcats pounded out 48 hits in four games at the Snowbird Classic, including 10 in the finale against Ball State.

    Northwestern will travel to Cookeville, Tenn., next weekend, for a three-game series against Tennessee Tech. Friday's series opener will begin at 3 p.m. CT. The Wildcats and Golden Eagles have never met on the baseball diamond.

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