After a weekend that saw Northwestern baseball get swept by Michigan (28-11, 8-3 B1G) in Ann Arbor, Spencer Allen and company got a momentum-boosting win on Tuesday night over UIC. Behind a strong start from rookie Parker Hanks and five shutout innings from the bullpen, the Wildcats (16-20, 5-7 B1G) notched a 6-1 win.
Unfortunately, the win does not help Northwestern achieve their most immediate goal: making the Big Ten tournament. The Wildcats currently sit at 11th in the conference with 13 conference games to go, 10 of them being against teams ranked higher in the standings. Only the top eight teams make the double-elimination tournament held in the center of the college baseball universe: Omaha, Nebraska.
The good news? Northwestern is only two games back of Minnesota and Rutgers, who are currently tied for fifth in the conference. They will have the opportunity to play a series against each of them down the stretch. Furthermore, the ‘Cats hope to use momentum from Tuesday to their advantage this weekend in a series against struggling Michigan State (10-27, 1-10 B1G). Northwestern certainly has the talent to secure their place in the field, and if 2017 is any indication, a place in the field is all you need.
Anyway, back to Tuesday. In addition to the aforementioned pitching performance, the Northwestern offense put on a show. The Wildcats racked up 11 hits, and more notably, each starter notched at least one. Junior Leo Kaplan led the way going 2-4 with a run and 2 RBIs. The performance was much-needed, as Kaplan is hitting just .178 on the year.
Willie Bourbon kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the first at Rocky Miller Park with an RBI single to right field that scored Alex Erro (2 runs). The next batter, freshman phenom David Dunn, followed that up with a suicide-squeeze bunt single that scored Shawn Goosenberg. It turns out the two runs were all that Northwestern would need.
Hanks scattered seven hits over four innings, but effectively worked out of jams in only allowing one run. Remarkably, Hanks did not strike out a single batter; however, he had strong command and walked only one. After plating one in the third inning, the Flames threatened to tie the game in the fourth, but a clutch double play ended the threat.
NU added two more runs on a Bourbon sac fly and a wild pitch in the seventh. Kaplan then unloaded this two-run bomb in the eighth to essentially seal the deal:
Four Northwestern pitchers each threw under 20 pitches in relief: Tommy D’Alise, Josh Levy, Sam Lawrence, and closer Nick Paciorek. Collectively, they only allowed two hits and didn’t walk a single batter.
The ‘Cats are back in action on Friday night in East Lansing.