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    Wildcats Cannot Hold Early Lead Against Evansville

    March 13, 2014

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    Evansville Purple Aces Evansville 6, Northwestern 4
    Chain of Lakes Park • Winter Haven, Fla.

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    WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Northwestern jumped out to a four-run lead in its first game of the RussMatt Invitational Thursday night, but the Wildcats could not maintain the edge as they fell to the Evansville Purple Aces, 6-4.

    Northwestern struck for a nice crooked number against Evansville starting pitcher Kyle Freeland in the bottom of the second inning. Designated hitter Reid Hunter lined a single to center to start the inning and he moved to second on a sacrifice from Walker Moses. After Cody Stevens reached on an error and Nick Linne walked to load the bases, red-hot freshman Matt Hopfner brought in the first two runs with a solid single up the middle. The next batter, Scott Heelan, muscled a double to left-center field that plated Linne and Hopfner, who motored all the way around from first base, to give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead after two.

    After issuing a base-on-balls to open the game Thursday, NU starter Matt Portland cruised through the first three innings. The southpaw sat down nine in a row and racked up four strikeouts in the process.

    Jake Mahon notched Evansville's first hit of the ballgame to lead off the fourth, but the third baseman was cut down trying to stretch his base hit into a double on a strong throw from Moses in left field. The 'Cats continued to flash the leather later in the inning when Linne made a great diving stop of a sharp grounder and started a 4-6-5 rundown to cut down Kevin Kaczmarski in between second and third base to end the frame.

    The Purple Aces finally evened the score with four runs in the top of the fifth. Three two-out singles, a walk and an error combined to help Evansville score four (two unearned) off Portland and the Wildcats. Mahon and Kaczmarski delivered the RBI hits in the frame.

    Portland recorded his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the night as he worked his third 1-2-3 sixth inning. After eclipsing the 100-pitch mark, however, his outing was finished and he was relieved by right-hander Brandon Magallones.

    A one-out walk to the ninth-place hitter set up the go-ahead run for the Purple Aces in the top of the seventh. Magallones struck out the lead-off batter, but gave up back-to-back singles to Mahon and Kaczmarski and was hampered by a wild pitch as Evansville took a 6-4 lead, its first of the night.

    The Wildcats could not get anything going offensively against right-handed reliever Brent Jurceka. He retired all six NU hitters he faced in order and struck out three in 2.0 innings of relief for the Purple Aces.

    Sam Johns worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure his second save of the season. Magallones was saddled with his first loss of the season in his first relief appearance since his freshman season in 2012. Freeland, a projected high-round MLB draft pick, collected his second win while striking out nine.

    Hopfner, Jones and Moses all had two-hit games for Northwestern. For Hopfner, it was his team-high eighth multi-hit affair. Heelan drove in two runs for the fifth time this season.

    The Wildcats will play their second doubleheader of the season on Saturday, beginning at 1:30 p.m. CT against Maine. Following that game, Northwestern will take on LIU Brooklyn in the nightcap. The 'Cats won last year's meeting against the Blackbirds at the RussMatt Invitational in convincing fashion, 12-3. Sophomore Reed Mason is slated to start game one for NU, followed by senior Dan Tyson in game two.

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