Northwest baseball entered into a trio of firsts this week: the first series with three home runs, the first Monday doubleheader and the first home series.
The Bearcats saved their best offensive performance for March 31-April 1 as they battled for a sweep against Washburn in the first home series of the year.
Ever since the baseball season came upon the Bearcats, the main struggle has been to get out on the diamond in Maryville. Northwest has been forced to prolong its first home series for almost a month now.
But as the weather runs north, the bone-chilling winters have been replaced by sunshine, green grass and excellent field conditions. These factors have finally let the Bearcats play their first home game and home series of the season.
“Obviously, having Hughes Fieldhouse is enormous for us, but it's definitely not the same as being outside and seeing the ball in the sky and seeing live pitching in the outdoors,” coach Darin Loe said. “For anybody playing at home, its huge; just having the crowd behind you, and obviously having those last at-bats, is certainly big as well.”
With a new opportunity on the season, the Bearcats (14-15, MIAA 10-8) wasted no time getting settled into this idea of a home series, as they swept Washburn (12-6, MIAA 6-12) in a three-game series (14-9, 16-11, 7-5).
For the Bearcats, it was the bats and the crowd that fueled this new approach, for the first time this season, Northwest reached a conference winning percentage over .500.
“It’s been exciting being at Northwest. The community rallies around its athletes and they make it fun to be in Maryville,” junior third baseman Calvin Rudolph said. “I’ve learned that it’s always a great day to be a Bearcat.”
The Bearcats are not known for their home run hitting abilities but dabble in the trade of swiping bases and playing the small ball route. Northwest has produced nine home runs on the year, and three of those came this weekend at home.
All of these home runs were crucial to the moment as the bats are beginning to prosper in clutch situations. Senior second baseman Mondesi Gutierrez established the tone for the series when he hit a three-run shot to tie Game 1 at nine apiece.
In the doubleheader, the Nebraska-Kearney transfers flourished as sophomore left fielder Peter Carlson hit a grand slam over the left field wall to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth inning of Game 2. Rudolph followed the trend as he blasted his own grand slam to left field to put Northwest up 5-3 in the fifth inning of Game 3.
“They threw back-to-back changeups, and on the second one, I was able to sit back and make solid contact,” Rudolph said. “We had a great week of practice. The guys were locked in, and it showed on Sunday and Monday.”
The Bearcats are starting to hit a rhythm when they step to the plate, and coach Loe knows that’s what makes this team dangerous. To him, the Bearcats need one thing to make a run, and that is confidence.
“A lot of hitters should have confidence now, in their abilities and what they can do,” Loe said. “We knew we were a good offensive unit; we just hadn’t shown it yet, and yesterday you saw, so just really good signs of how well we can swing the bats.”