With a weekend sweep of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (19-34, 7-16 B1G), the Northwestern Wildcats (24-28, 13-11 B1G) clinched both a spot in the Big Ten Tournament and the No. 7 seed. Led by outstanding starting pitching that threw 21 innings with 0 earned runs and 9 RBIs from Matt Hopfner, the Wildcats won by scores of 14-0, 4-0, and 5-4. After an outstanding finish to the regular season in which they won 16 of their final 24 games, the Wildcats will taste postseason baseball for the first time since 2010.
In Game 1, Northwestern looked like Virginia, pouring on 14 runs as starter Cooper Weatherbee and reliever Tommy Bordignon threw a shutout. Weatherbee’s 9 strikeouts were a career high, and he demonstrated impressive control in throwing only 2 walks. On the offensive side, Jack Dunn, Joe Hoscheit, and Matt Hopfner collectively gathered 9 hits, 7 runs and 8 RBIs (including 6 from Hopfner!) to lead the way. Hopfner and Jack Claeys both homered as the ‘Cats put together 4 innings of 3 or more runs.
Games 2 and 3 were played as a doubleheader on Friday due to a precarious forecast for Saturday (RIP Dillo). The first game starting at 11:30 looked much like Friday’s matchup, except with far less scoring and younger pitchers. Freshman starter Hank Christie repeated Weatherbee’s performance in throwing 7 scoreless innings, and freshman reliever Sam Lawrence imitated Bordignon with two scoreless frames. In earning his sixth quality start of the season, Christie posted a 5:0 K/BB ratio. Hoscheit and Hopfner managed only two hits apiece this time around to lead the offense, and Hopfner’s 2 RBIs brought his 2-game total to a ridiculous 8. The win clinched the 3rd straight series win for Northwestern and their 7th on the year.
After a hour-long rain delay, a sloppy Game 3 kicked off as the Wildcats looked for the sweep. The ‘Cats again jumped ahead in the bottom of the 2nd when strong winds blew a Matt Hopfner pop-up over the head of right fielder Tommy Genuario, putting Hopfner at 3rd on the error. Two batters later, junior Connor Lind brought in Hopfner with a sacrifice fly. After the Scarlet Knights answered in the top of the third via a Luke Bowerbank RBI single (aided by a Jack Dunn error three batters earlier), the scoring halted for 3 innings. Senior Josh Davis finished off the incredible weekend of starting pitching by (no surprise here) throwing 7 innings with no earned runs.
In the bottom of the 6th, the Northwestern bats finally awoke, as Alex Erro scored on a Matt Hopfner single. A couple pitches later, Joe Hoscheit scored on a wild pitch. Following a Rutgers pitching change, Hopfner came around to score on a balk, and then Lind promptly hit a single to bring home Jack Claeys, giving Northwestern a 5-1 lead that it would not relinquish. A 2-RBI double by Christian Campbell in the top of the 8th and a 9th inning RBI single from Genuario created the final score of 5-3. With the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second in the top of the 9th, senior Pete Hofman closed out the win with a curveball to get Kevin Welsh looking.
After the game, the seniors celebrated the win in their final regular season game and final home game in a Northwestern uniform. However, their strong play this weekend afforded them the opportunity to keep playing in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins next Wednesday, May 24, in Bloomington, Ind. Despite sneaking into the tournament, the Wildcats are playing the best baseball they have all year and could do some damage against whomever they face.