May 14, 2014
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern travels to Columbus, Ohio this week to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, beginning Thursday, May 15, in the final series of the 2014 regular season. With wins in all three games, and a bit of help from two other Big Ten teams, the Wildcats can secure a berth in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, Neb.
In order to qualify for the conference tournament, NU first needs to top OSU in all three meetings at Bill Davis Stadium. Additionally, the 'Cats need help from Purdue and Michigan State. If Purdue defeats Iowa three times at Alexander Field in West Lafayette, Ind. this weekend and Michigan State wins at least one of three games during its series at Penn State, then Northwestern will be headed to TD Ameritrade Park next week for the Big Ten Tournament.
After a slow start to the season which saw Northwestern win only six of its first 30 games, the Wildcats have seen markedly improved results since April 16. In the last month or so, NU is 11-8 with an improved .282 team batting average (+10 points) and a 4.04 staff ERA (-1.33). The turnaround began on April 16 when the 'Cats swept both games of a doubleheader against Chicago State before taking two out of three games from Nebraska at Hawks Field in Lincoln, Neb., April 18-19. Individually, Scott Heelan is batting .375 since April 16, an improvement of 108 points over his first 27 games prior to that date. On the mound, seniors Nick Friar and Dan Tyson are a combined 7-2 in 15 appearances (nine starts) with a joint ERA of 2.25 (15 ER/60.0 IP).
While he spends the spring on the diamond, NU sophomore Jack Mitchell spends the fall on the gridiron as a member of the Wildcats' football team. The San Diego, Calif., native is a place kicker for the 'Cats, but he has yet to see any game action. Mitchell is one of nine multi-sport athletes playing NCAA baseball this season. Mitchell has battled injury to appear in 26 games for the Wildcats with 18 starts. He has started the last 11 games in the outfield for NU. On April 23, Mitchell hit a pinch-hit, game-winning single to walk of against Chicago State. Then on May 7, the sophomore launched his first home run of the season, a mammoth blast that that nearly left UIC's Curtis Granderson Stadium altogether.
HEELAN'S HOT BAT
Second baseman Scott Heelan has been swinging a hot bat since moving from behind the plate. He made his first career appearance at second base on March 29 at Penn State and his first start on April 4 vs. Illinois. Since April 5 against the Illini, Heelan is batting .391 (36-for-92) with a team-high 15 RBI and seven doubles in 24 games. He has hit safely in 21 of the 24 games and is batting .311 overall. The redshirt junior is batting .329 with four doubles and nine RBI in 20 Big Ten games for Northwestern and his OBP of .414 ranks 12th in the conference in league games. Heelan is also NU's leading hitter with runners in scoring position at a clip of .413 (19-for-46).
KEEPING IT CLOSE
Northwestern has played in 15 one-run games this season, including six of its last 13. The Wildcats are 6-9 in games decided by a run in 2014 following a 2-1 win over Chicago on May 6. Southern Illinois has played more one-run games than anyone in the country this year with 23 (10-13), while Illinois leads the Big Ten with 17 (11-6). Michigan (6-10) and Minnesota (9-7) have played 16 one-run games apiece.
All three games in Columbus will be televised live on the Big Ten Network with Eric Collins handling the play-by-play and Danan Hunghes providing analysis. Northwestern is 1-1 in games on BTN this season. The Wildcats narrowly lost a 1-0 decision to Illinois on Rocky Miller Park on April 6 before coming from behind to topple Nebraska in 12 innings at Hawks Field on April 18.
Ohio State currently leads the all-time series against Northwestern, 91-47. The Buckeyes took two of three at Rocky Miller Park last season and all three games the last time that the two programs clashed at Bill Davis Stadium. NU's last win in Columbus came on April 2, 2011 (7-3). Seniors Dan Tyson and Jack Quigley both pitched that day for the Wildcats, though neither hurler factored in the final decision.
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