Northwestern baseball is back. While the current rendition of the team doesn’t appear to have the next Joe Girardi or J.A. Happ (who recently signed a 2-year, $34 million extension with the Yankees), they are unlikely to be a pushover in the Big Ten. In their first weekend of competitive baseball down in Arizona, the Wildcats (2-2) lost a series against BYU, but ended on a high note with a 9-5 win over Cal.
4-3 L vs. BYU (10 innings)
Friday’s opener at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona was the most closely contested matchup of the weekend. Ace Hank Christie tossed six innings of one-run ball and recorded four strikeouts to notch his first quality start of the season. After a three-run sixth inning highlighted by a two-run single off the bat of Leo Kaplan, Christie was primed for the win.
However, Northwestern’s bullpen and defense could not hold the lead. Southpaw Jack Pagliarini recorded two walks and an error in a tumultuous eighth-inning stint, enabling the Cougars to tie the game. When the game went to extras, BYU’s Jack Cluff notched a walk-off single off Northwestern junior Josh Levy to send the Wildcats packing. Alex Erro went 2-5 with a run to extend his hitting streak to 15 games in the loss.
3-2 W vs. BYU
11-2 L vs. BYU
In the first game of the doubleheader, junior starter Sam Lawrence tossed five shutout innings as the ‘Cats built a three-run lead behind a BYU error and two bases-loaded walks. Those three runs were all Northwestern needed. The bullpen faltered again, as Anthony Alepra allowed two runs in three decent innings of work (he didn’t record a walk), but closer Nick Paciorek held on in the ninth, retiring the Cougars in order to pick up a save. Erro and Ben Dickey both stole bases in the Wildcats’ first win of the season.
The nightcap proved that poor starting pitching will usually doom a team. Wildcat starter Ryan Bale struggled mightily, ceding five runs in three innings of work, highlighted by a Brock Hale home run. The Cougars continued to pile it on in the fourth, adding six more runs on a barrage of singles and doubles. Erro homered for Northwestern in one of the few bright spots of the game, extending his hitting streak to 17 games.
9-5 W vs. Cal
At the Tempe Diablo Stadium Complex, senior Willie Bourbon was the brightest star in an offensive outburst. Bourbon went 3-3 with a home run and two walks as Northwestern scored early and often against Cal. The Wildcats took advantage of a horrendous defensive performance from the Bears, who piled up six errors. Brothers Jack Dunn (senior) and David Dunn (redshirt freshman) went a combined 5-8 with 3 runs and 2 RBIs in the commanding win that evened their record. The Northwestern bullpen was still a problem, allowing four runs in the final two innings of play.
Overall, Northwestern appears to be a strong offensive team with a couple solid starting pitchers. The bullpen will need to improve before conference play and will surely be a focus of head coach Spencer Allen.
"Everyone got an opportunity to contribute, and we're excited about this group moving forward," said Allen.