With a series win over Penn State this weekend, Northwestern baseball is threatening to hit .500 – and for Northwestern baseball, that’s saying something.
NU (16-23, 5-7 B1G) went 2-1 in this weekend’s series against the last-place Nittany Lions (13-26, 2-10 B1G), marking their third series win in their past four weekend series. The ‘Cats won the first two games relatively convincingly before dropping a 2-1 nailbiter on Sunday.
The biggest blowout came Thursday, when a 9-run (!!) sixth inning led them to a 12-5 victory. Leftfielder Joe Hoscheit (who picked up B1G player of the week honors for a second week running) led the way, going 2-4 with three RBI, but it was truly a team effort: Ten different ‘Cats scored in the game (and as a reminder, baseball requires nine starters).
After five innings, the ‘Cats trailed 4-1; starter Cooper Wetherbee had given up four runs along with four Ks, and the offense was struggling to get much going. Their run began on an RBI double by Matt Hopfner, and the offense simply didn’t stop – but the Nittany Lions definitely helped. After a single and an error by PSU tied the game at four, Northwestern doubled their score on four consecutive wild pitches. From there, the ‘Cats never looked back, tacking on two more runs in the sixth in addition to one apiece in the seventh and eighth. Penn State scored one of their own in the eighth, but it was far from enough – NU finished with a convincing 12-5 victory.
On Saturday, Northwestern again relied on a high-scoring inning for much of their offense. Penn State jumped to an early 1-0 lead when a runner scored on an error by third baseman Charlie Maxwell, but the ‘Cats struck back in the fourth. Maxwell scored the first run on a wild pitch by PSU pitcher Justin Hagenman. Consecutive hits by Hoscheit and Hopfner brought home two more, and then Hoscheit scored on Penn State’s 1000th (I mean, sixth) wild pitch of the series to make it 4-1 at the end of the third. Penn State scored three more in the eighth to make things a little more interesting, but it wasn’t enough to catch up to NU’s big inning.
Starter Hank Christie (W, 3-4) tossed a gem, giving up just one unearned run over 6.2 innings while striking out four and walking just one.
Sunday’s game may not have been the best offensive game of the weekend, but it was certainly the most intense. After five scoreless innings, Hoscheit broke the tie with his fifth homer of the season in the top of the sixth to make it 1-0. Hoscheit’s solo shot was one of just three hits by the ‘Cats on Sunday – Penn State’s Eric Mock threw six impressive innings, giving up just two hits and striking out five.
A sacrifice fly by PSU catcher Alex Malinsky tied it at one in the seventh, and a scoreless eighth set up an intense ninth inning. After blanking the ‘Cats in the top of the inning, PSU loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, and right fielder Braxton Giovedoni’s RBI single proved to be the difference, giving Penn State a 2-1 victory.
Despite winning the series, Northwestern probably returns to Evanston a little disappointed: Penn State is the worst team in the Big Ten, and this series easily could have been a sweep for the ‘Cats. After a Wednesday game against Chicago State, the Wildcats return home this weekend to take on Michigan State, who shares the same 5-7 conference record as Northwestern, good for a tie for ninth in the conference.