After splitting the first two games of the three-game series, the Northwestern baseball team (13-31, 5-15 B1G) fell to the Michigan Wolverines (22-25-1, 11-10 B1G) on Sunday at Rocky Miller Park with a score of 5-3.
Michigan’s series victory snapped Northwestern’s run of dominance against the Wolverines, which had included three straight years in which the ‘Cats had won the season series before Michigan finally ended that trend on Sunday.
Northwestern coach Paul Stevens sent left-hander Reed Mason to the mound to counter Michigan’s lineup, which consisted of four lefties at the top of the order. Despite facing the left-handed Mason, Michigan coach Erik Bakich stuck with his usual lineup, which ultimately worked out for the Wolverine's offense.
Mason took advantage of the matchup in the first inning, inducing a pair of groundouts to first baseman Matt Hopfner before running into trouble with the middle of the order. Back-to-back singles by Jackson Glines and Carmen Benedetti put runners on the corners with two outs for catcher Cole Martin, who singled through the left side of the infield to give the Wolverines the early 1-0 advantage.
Initially, it appeared that the game would be a battle of the left-handers as Michigan sent 6-foot-3 inch lefty Logan McAnallen to the mound to face Northwestern’s righty-friendly lineup. However, McAnallen didn’t last long as he ran into trouble in the first inning with control issues.
Hopfner started the rally with a one-out walk, and after a single up the middle by Scott Heelan and a four-pitch walk to cleanup hitter Jack Mitchell, freshman Joe Hoscheit stepped to the plate. A lengthy battle ensued between Hoscheit and McAnallen before the Michigan starter hit Hoescheit to force home Northwestern’s first run.
At that point, Bakich had seen enough of McAnallen’s control issues, calling on right-hander Keith Lehmann following the bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. The move proved fruitless, however, as right fielder Walker Moses smacked an opposite-field single to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the day. Catcher Jake Straub followed with a sacrifice fly, and Northwestern had a 3-1 lead heading into the second inning.
Provided with a two-run cushion, Mason went to work on the Wolverines. The left-hander settled down enough to toss a couple of scoreless frames in the second and third innings, but he again ran into trouble in the top of the fourth and fifth.
After Michigan cut the defect with a run in the fourth, hitter Kevin White tripled to lead off the top of the fifth. It appeared that Mason might get out of the jam after he struck out leadoff hitter Travis Maezes, but third baseman Jacob Cronenworth hit a deep sacrifice fly to left field to tie the game.
Meanwhile, Northwestern’s offense became stagnant after its first-inning breakthrough, failing to piece together any offense against Lehmann. The Michigan right-hander went five dominant innings, consistently getting ahead in counts as he limited the ‘Cats to just four hits and a walk.
“He just did a great job of spotting up and mixing up his pitches,” Heelan said. “Whenever any guys can do that at the college level they find a lot of success.”
The game remained tied through the seventh inning, when Michigan threatened to reclaim its first lead since the first inning. Back-to-back singles by Dominic Jamett and White put runners on first and second. Then, with one out, Cronenworth lined a single to left-center field, and Jamett tried to score from second. Hoscheit, playing left field, came up with a strong throw, and a nice tag by Straub at home plate kept the score knotted up at three.
After Northwestern went scoreless for the sixth straight inning in the bottom of the seventh, Stevens turned to right-hander Jack Quigley to keep the game tied. Quigley set the Wolverines down in order in the eighth, but the ‘Cats once again failed to capitalize on offense in the home half of the inning.
“We hit some balls early in the ballgame,” Stevens said, explaining his team’s sluggish performance on offense. “[There were hits] that you expect to see go through and unfortunately that just hasn’t been the way the ball has bounced.”
It appeared the two teams were set to play an extra-inning game for the third consecutive season as the game remained tied heading into the ninth inning, but the Wolverines ensured that wouldn’t be the case. With Quigley back out on the mound, Michigan first baseman Kendall Patrick singled to lead off the inning. Pinch runner Zach Zott then stole second base and advanced to third on a single by Jamett. Two batters later, Cronenworth bounced a two-run single past the drawn in Northwestern infield, just past a lunging Heelan, to give Michigan a 5-3 lead.
“At the end of the day, I’ll probably relive that a couple times,” Heelan said. “It was out of my reach but it’s still always tough to swallow.”
From there, it was only fitting that Cronenworth, who finished the day with three of his team’s five RBI, would seal the deal for Michigan. The sophomore right-hander closed out the game with a perfect one-two-three ninth inning to give the Wolverines the win.
“I can sit there and say everybody did everything they could today,” Stevens said. “And it was just not our day.”
The loss was Northwestern’s six in its last seven games, leaving the ‘Cats stuck in last place in the B1G even after Purdue’s loss on Sunday opened the door for Northwestern to jump out of the conference’s bottom spot.
The ‘Cats will look to get back on track against Chicago Tuesday at 3 p.m.