Evan Minarovic stands at first base. Minarovic played for the first time this season against Purdue. Photo by Joanne Haner / North By Northwestern

Reading between the lines.

This is what fans of Northwestern baseball (3-20, 1-2 B1G) have had to do this season. The team has six times as many losses as they have wins but those losses look different every time. In Northwestern's first conference series against Purdue (12-15, 3-3 B1G), the team got its first conference win and two losses that provide lots of data, good and bad, that the team can incorporate moving forward into the rest of the season.

Game One – Purdue 8, Northwestern 4

Third-year ace Matt McClure started the first game of the series and pitched 5.1 innings while allowing four earned runs on six hits while striking out three.

Graduate outfielder Griffin Arnone hit a solo home run and fourth-year first baseman Stephen Hrustich hit two-for-four with an RBI double.

Game Two – Northwestern 7, Purdue 3

Holy Farinelli, Batman!

Graduate pitcher Michael Farinelli started and went 6.1 innings, easily the most he’s pitched in an appearance this year. In that time, he allowed two hits, one earned run and struck out nine batters. Nine. Forget this game being the best Farinelli’s had this year, this was the best performance of any Northwestern pitcher this season.

Fourth-year arm Coby Moe pitched 1.1 innings in relief, and third-year pitcher Ben Grable shut the door for the first save of the season. Not just his first save, the first save of any Wildcat pitcher.

At the plate, the Wildcats had their best offensive performance of the weekend. Arnone kicked things off with another home run, and the other RBI came from less expected players. First-year third baseman Trent Liolios drove in a run with his only hit of the game. Graduate catcher Cooper Foard drove in a run in his only appearance of the weekend, and fourth-year second-baseman Evan Minarovic, who hadn’t played a game before this weekend, grabbed three RBI on two-for-four hitting.

Game Three – Purdue 4, Northwestern 3

Extra innings again.

Purdue’s Lucas Cook hit a solo bomb to walk-off the game in the bottom of the tenth, ending the series and handing NU its third loss in extra innings, where the Wildcats have yet to win a game.

Despite the loss, this might have been the most promising showing of Northwestern’s pitching squad all season. First-year southpaw Sam Garewal started and pitched four innings, allowing two hits while walking just one batter and striking out three. Purdue scored three runs in the fourth, but none of them were earned. Then came Luke Benneche.

The third-year hurler pitched five innings and struck out six batters. Benneche pitched no more than three innings in any appearance before this game, but held down the fort in West Lafayette. He held Purdue scoreless after the fourth, giving the ’Cats a chance to claw back and tie the game. However, for all his heroics, Benneche didn’t have much left in the tank when the 10th inning rolled around, and that was all Purdue needed to take the win.

Offensively, Arnone homered again, for the third straight game. Second-year catcher Alex Calarco and Hrustich added RBI singles in the ninth to tie the game. Those three combined for four of the team’s seven hits, and four players in the lineup didn’t get on base at all.

As close as the series was, Northwestern was far from perfect. Defensive errors led to five unearned runs, which all came in the two losses. In the team’s last game against Purdue specifically, those unearned runs would have turned the tide in Northwestern’s favor. While hindsight is 20/20, Benneche had pitched far more than any other appearance this season, and pulling him before extra innings could have given the Wildcats more time to score a run.

On the bright side, this weekend’s series offered positive signs for upcoming games. Farinelli looked like a true shutdown starter. Garewal and Benneche combined showed evidence of an improving bullpen. Offensively, Calarco, Arnone and Hrustich continued to excel and give the Wildcats a consistent offensive presence. If the ’Cats continue the momentum from this series, more conference wins are on the way.