By Tim Hackett
One game had the pitching, one game had the offense, and one game had the errors. Northwestern played three times against Missouri at Taylor Stadium in Columbia this weekend, and while they all looked a little different, they all had the same end result: a win for Mizzou. The Tigers (9-5) didn’t really have any quality wins ahead of a grueling SEC schedule that kicks off next weekend, but after this trio of wins over the Wildcats (4-9), they have three, spoiling Northwestern’s bid to not only win its first series of the season but continue its streak of winning at least one game every weekend.
Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen made the call to move sophomore lefty Quinn Lavelle to the Friday starter spot, rewarding him for back-to-back good starts against Duke and Georgia Tech. Lavelle delivered, crafting a third-consecutive quality start and going toe-to-toe with TJ Sikkema, the Missouri ace that hadn’t allowed an earned run in 13 innings prior to Friday. That changed in the very first inning of the series, as Northwestern struck first on a Willie Bourbon RBI single that scored Jack Dunn. Sikkema locked it down from there, providing his team a chance to come back, a chance they took in the sixth as Chris Cornelius doubled and scored with two outs to tie the game.
Sikkema allowed two hits but no runs in the seventh, while Lavelle wasn’t quite as fortunate. He walked Mark Vierling to open the frame, and Tony Ortiz followed with a double. Associate Head Coach Josh Reynolds took Lavelle out and put in Josh Levy to face Paul Gomez, a defense-first infielder with one hit to his name on the season. Gomez delivered a double lined just over the head of Shawn Goosenberg to bring both runners home and put Mizzou on top. Levy loaded the bases and got just one out, but Sam Lawrence got Cornelius to hit into a double play to extinguish the threat.
Now facing a deficit but no longer facing Sikkema, the Cats got one back in the eighth courtesy of another Bourbon single that scored David Dunn. Lawrence got into some trouble in the eighth, but Nick Paciorek picked him up, getting two strikeouts to keep it close. But Missouri closer Cameron Dulle continued his strong start to the season, notching the final five outs of the game to lock down his second save and secure a 3-2 Missouri win.
Friday’s game was a pitchers’ duel through and through, and Saturday’s matchup between Jacob Cantleberry and Hank Christie looked like it could produce something similar. It was not to be: aided in no small part by gusting winds of stronger than 40 mph, the two teams combined for 27 runs on 31 hits, including six homers, as Missouri won a slugfest to clinch the series. Star Tiger outfielder Kameron Misner, held in check by Lavelle and company on Friday, kicked off Saturday with a solo home run, but Northwestern responded in the top of the second as Bourbon walked and scored on a single from Goosenberg. Mizzou got right back to it in the bottom half as Chad McDaniel doubled and Ortiz left the yard with a two-run shot, but the Cats once again responded in the next inning via a bases-loaded two-run single from Casey O’Laughlin.
Christie struggled with the long ball last weekend against Georgia Tech, and the home runs came back to hurt him again this weekend in Columbia. With the score tied at three in the third, Mizzou hit two bombs – one from Cornelius and another one from Ortiz – as part of a five-run frame. The Tigers followed it up with five more in the fourth, batting around for the second straight inning and racing out to a 13-3 lead.
The Cats got two back from Cantleberry in the fifth via O’Laughlin’s second homer of the season, but Mizzou got them right back in the bottom half on a two-run Cornelius single off Jack Pagliarini to re-establish a 15-5 lead. The Tigers would add one more in the sixth to make the lead 11, but NU displayed some impressive resolve against a dodgy Missouri bullpen, fighting back in the late innings to make the scoreline respectable. David Dunn and Alex Erro drove in runs in the eighth before Dunn capped off the festivities with his first career homer, a three-run shot to right. It wouldn’t be nearly enough, however, and Missouri won the game 16-11.
Rain soaked the infield before the second game of the week, but Sunday’s game produced the sloppiest play. The teams combined for six errors and four unearned runs, but Missouri rode two strong pitching performances to a 9-4 win in the series finale. For the second time of the weekend, the Cats struck first. A rare error by Gomez at third base allowed Jack Dunn to score to kick off the game, and then David Dunn followed him home on a throwing error by starting pitcher Tyler LaPlante. Northwestern starter Ryan Bader had a two run lead to work with in another audition for a rotation spot, but that lead quickly disappeared. Bader allowed two hits and a walk to load the bases with no outs, but after a sac fly and a strikeout it seemed like the sophomore lefty would be able to limit the damage. Tony Ortiz had other ideas. He potted his third home run of the weekend over the wall in straightaway left to put Mizzou up 4-2 after one.
Bader got into more trouble in the second and his day ended after just five outs. Sam Lawrence entered from the pen and got McDaniel to hit into a fielder’s choice to end a second inning threat, and the Cats leveled the score in the fourth on a two-strike, two-out, two-run single from Jack Dunn.
But Mizzou once again answered. Lawrence got two quick outs in the fifth but then walked pinch-hitter Alex Peterson, setting the stage for Austin James, another pinch-hitter, to crank his first home run of the season over the left field wall to reestablish a 6-4 lead for the Tigers. Nick Paciorek entered in the sixth the keep the deficit there, but instead he coughed up three more runs, aided by an error of his own, to stake Mizzou to a five run lead.
LaPlante finally exited after six innings on exactly 100 pitches, but reliever Ian Bedell bedeviled the Cats even more. Anthony Alepra delivered two shutout innings out of the ‘pen for NU, but Bedell one-upped him with three scoreless innings of relief, allowing just an infield single to Goosenberg to earn a three-inning save and lock down a 9-4 win and a series sweep for Missouri.
Northwestern will have one more shot at a non-conference series win next weekend at Kent State, but first, the Cats will look to get back in the win column with a home tilt against in-state foe MacMurray this Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.