Two days after defeating No. 2 Michigan in a thrilling 6-4 win, your trophy-hunting No. 7 Northwestern Wildcats (26-28, 15-11 B1G) toppled the No. 3 Minnesota Gophers (36-20, 16-9 B1G) by a score of 11-7 to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten baseball tournament in Bloomington, Ind. Despite a shaky start from freshman Hank Christie, the offense bailed him out and the team built upon the momentum it has generated in its seven-game winning streak.
The win can be attributed to a balanced offensive attack. With the exception of leadoff batter Alex Erro and 2-hole Jack Dunn, who went a combined 0-9, each batter in the Wildcats starting lineup had at least one hit and at least one RBI or run, and batters 3-9 went a combined 11-20.
The scoring for both teams was early and often. Minnesota jumped out of the gate with a 2-run homerun from Micah Coffey in the top of the 1st to give Northwestern, the home team, a 2-0 deficit. That deficit was quickly erased with a 3-run double from Connor Lind in the bottom of the inning. The Wildcats then extended the lead to 5-2 with a run in the second inning on a wild pitch and a run in the third inning on a Lind RBI single.
After a bomb to right from Toby Hanson in the 4th cut the lead to 5-3, Minnesota pulled a Northwestern in the top of the 6th, scoring 3 runs to give the Gophers a 1-run edge. The damage was done on 3 singles and a double, and NU head coach Spencer Allen went through 3 pitchers before the 3rd out was recorded.
Northwestern’s offense, however, decided that losing is not fun and promptly retook the lead, as they have done repeatedly throughout their remarkable 7-game run. Ben Dickey hit a sacrifice fly to plate Jack Claeys before Nick Paciorek hit an RBI double to plate Grant Peikert, giving the bench good reason to erupt as they took a 7-6 advantage.
A Gopher home run from Alex Boxwell knotted the game at 7, but a go-ahead Claeys single in the bottom half turned out to be all the pitching staff needed. For insurance, Dickey hit an RBI single, Peikert plated Claeys on a suicide squeeze, and the next inning, All-Big Ten First Teamer Joe Hoscheit launched a ball over the center field fence. In the biggest win of the decade for Northwestern, freshmen pitchers Sam Lawrence and Josh Levy recorded the final 6 outs to send Minnesota to the brink of elimination.
Just one year after setting the program record for losses, the ‘Cats have now won two games in the B1G Tournament for the first time since 2002. Their next game is Saturday at 9:00 CT against No. 4 Maryland, and can be watched on the Big Ten Network. The tournament is double-elimination, so if Northwestern can manage to keep the magic alive long enough to win 2 of their next 3 games, they will be your most improbable Big Ten champs.