By Eric Rynston-Lobel
At this time last week, Northwestern baseball was 6-13 following a series loss to the Purdue Boilermakers. Now, they find themselves in a much more desirable position heading into five games this week.
After a win over Chicago State Wednesday, the ‘Cats swept San Jose State, who came into Evanston leading the Mountain West Conference. Unsurprisingly, the Spartans did not go down easily, as two of the three NU wins came by the slimmest of margins.
In the first game of the series, Quinn Lavelle tossed a complete-game, two-hit shutout to lead the ‘Cats to a 1-0 win. This was a much needed performance after Lavelle came into the game having allowed eleven earned runs in his previous two starts.
First-year Anthony Calarco scored the lone Northwestern run after a groundout by senior Jack Dunn, and that proved to be the only one the sophomore southpaw Lavelle needed. In throwing a season-high 122 pitches and striking out seven, he delivered a performance that seemed to spark NU the rest of the weekend.
On Saturday, after falling behind 5-2 through five and a half innings, the ‘Cats tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the sixth after senior Willie Bourbon scored on a wild pitch and Dunn drove in two more with a single to center field.
Junior Hank Christie started for NU and allowed five runs in 5.2 innings. However, sophomore Anthony Alepra kept the offense in the game with 2.1 scoreless innings after entering in the seventh inning. Then in the bottom of the ninth, NU loaded the bases for Willie Bourbon who worked a five-pitch walk to send the fans home happy with a 6-5 win.
Sunday’s contest was the least nerve-wracking of the series. Ahead 4-0 in the seventh inning, the ‘Cats added two more with a two-run home run by Bourbon, his third of the season. On the mound, first-year Mike Doherty’s five shutout innings and four more scoreless from the bullpen allowed NU to sweep the series with a 6-0 win.
On Tuesday, the ‘Cats face Chicago State for the second time in as many weeks and then UIC on Wednesday before opening up a three-game set with Big Ten rival Ohio State this weekend. NU defeated Chicago State 13-1 on Wednesday and will look to continue the success that began with that emphatic victory.
The Cougars have struggled to a 7-18 start to the season, making the UIC Flames a bigger test. They hold a 10-11 record including a 6-2 mark in the Horizon League. Led at the plate by senior outfielder Scott Ota and junior infielder Matt Bottcher, Northwestern’s pitching staff will have its hands’ full against a lineup averaging 4.9 runs per game.
Following the two mid-week games, the ‘Cats resume Big Ten play against the Buckeyes (16-11, 2-1 Big Ten) in Columbus, Ohio. They will likely face redshirt freshman left-hander Seth Lonsway, who is coming off of a complete-game shutout against Rutgers in which he struck out 12 and allowed only three hits. For the season, Lonsway has struck out 51 hitters in 38.1 innings.
Offensively, the Buckeyes feature four everyday players hitting .290 or better including senior Brady Cherry who leads the way at .357 with eight home runs and 26 runs batted in. He set his career-high in the latter category last season with 28, but he’s in position to break that this weekend.
If he doesn’t, though, that will be because the Wildcats’ pitchers will have picked up where they left off from this weekend, when they allowed only six runs over four games including two shutouts.
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