Northwestern baseball (15-28, 5-17 B1G) had a true back-and-forth battle against Iowa (28-17, 9-8 B1G) on Friday night in one of the most exciting games at Rocky Miller Park all season. It featured home runs, costly errors, extra innings ... and did someone say walk-off?
Iowa found themselves on the board early thanks to a pair of singles in the top of the second from senior first baseman Matt Hoeg and sophomore shortstop Kyle Crowl. Hoeg advanced to second on a past ball from Jack Claeys, his 10th of the season, then scored on Crowl’s single to right. The Wildcats were able to get out of the inning with only 1 run allowed, in part thanks to a jumping snag from shortstop Jack Dunn on what should have been a single up the middle. This was a precursor to Dunn’s heroics later on in the night.
Northwestern tried to answer in the bottom half of the inning, but fell short. Charlie Maxwell reached first on a throwing error, then advanced to third by a frozen rope to the left center gap by Leo Kaplan. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats couldn’t finish the job and ended the inning with a ground out.
The next few innings were quiet offensively. That was the case until the fifth inning when the Wildcats bats woke up. Freshman lefty starting pitcher Quinn Lavelle helped himself by smacking a double off the right-center field fence. He advanced to third on a sacrifice fly, then scored on one of Iowa’s two infield throwing errors on the day.
The ‘Cats took their first lead of the day in the bottom of the sixth when Jack Claeys blasted a home run over the left field wall to take a 2-1 lead. Claeys described the home run after the game as “one of those that you just kind of know it’s gone [off the bat].”
The lead didn’t last long, however, as the Hawkeyes bats woke up as well. In the seventh, Lavelle hit Tyler Cropley with a pitch to lead off the inning. Cropley promptly reached second on a steal. A couple batters later, a Kyle Crowl double followed by a Lorenzo Elion single brought home two runs, marking the end of Lavelle’s start and giving the Hawkeyes a 3-2 advantage.
But on this night, Northwestern did not stop fighting. Ben Dickey started the bottom of the seventh in fashion with a bomb to left field. Yabo. Yahtzee. Goner. Yardwork. Whatever you want to call it, the game was tied up now going into the eighth.
In the bottom of the eighth, Northwetern set themselves up for success by loading the bases with only one away. From there, the Hawkeyes did the work for them. A past ball followed by a hit-by-pitch followed by a balk brought home 2 runs with very little work from the ‘Cats, making the score 5-3.
Alright. We’ve gone back and forth. We’ve had our fun. Wildcats lead 5-3 going into the ninth, game over, right? Wrong.
Iowa was able to string together a chain of hits to get first and third with two outs. Claeys did not throw down to second on the steal, setting up second and third with two outs. A loopy bloop hit to the right side between the infield and outfield found some grass, clearing the bases and tying the game. Outside of a double down the line from Alex Erro, Northwestern was shut down in the bottom of the ninth, and the fans at Rocky Miller were treated to free baseball.
Iowa put up a run in the top of the 10th courtesy of a Matt Hoeg double to right. With a one-run lead entering the bottom of the 10th, the game felt far from over given its back-and-forth nature.
Two outs. Men on second and third. Jack Dunn at the plate. He was 0-for-4 on the day entering the at-bat. Dunn smacked a ground ball up the middle, just out of reach of Kyle Crowl's diving attempt. The pinch-runner, sophomore Nick Paciorek, scored as Leo Kaplan was waved home. The Hawkeye center fielder bobbled the ball, and Kaplan crossed home plate safely as the Wildcats stormed out of the dugout.
Wildcats win 7-6. Final. Finally.
Jack Claeys said this Wildcats team is used to wild games like this one: “This season has been a rollercoaster of games like that and there haven’t seem to have been many to go our way in the late innings, so being able to finally pull one out and be on the right side of things…it was big time.”
Following the exciting win, the Wildcats hope to clinch the series on Saturday at Rocky Miller Park.