‘Cats Earn their First Series Win

By Brea Lassek

Northwestern baseball earned its first series win (14-2, 4-2, 3-12, 7-5) of the 2021 season over the weekend against Michigan State in Greenville, South Carolina. After Northwestern’s dominant 14-2 win on Friday, the teams split the Saturday twin bill, leaving the series up for grabs going into Sunday’s contest.

Down one in the bottom of the ninth, junior shortstop Shawn Goosenberg hit a walk-off three-run home run to steal a 7-5 victory, and the series, for the ‘Cats. First-year outfielder Ethan O’Donnell singled to right field to begin the inning, and senior first baseman Anthony Calarco followed by drawing a walk. Trailing 5-4 with no outs and runners on first and second, other coaches might have directed Goosenberg to bunt. Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen, however, said he wanted to “give one of the team’s best hitters a chance to bring them home” and gave Goosenberg the nod to swing away.

“The first goal is always to extend the inning and move runners over,” Goosenberg said. “But, before that at-bat, I had a meeting with the coaches, and it felt great that they had the confidence in me to swing.”

The Big Ten preseason honoree recorded his best batting performance of the season, going 3-for-5 with 4 RBIs. Sophomore right-hander Jack Dyke started for the Wildcats and pitched five innings, while first-year right-handed pitcher Garrett Boeckle earned the win, allowing only one hit in the top of the ninth. Allen and senior pitcher Quinn Lavelle both named Boeckle as an exciting first-year pitcher to watch.

“Garrett Boeckle has been great so far, especially in these huge, high pressure situations,” Lavelle said. “It’s been good to get some of those young pitchers out there to have them gain confidence. The coaches trust them for a reason, and now it’s about getting them more experience.”

After struggling to escape the first inning against Penn State last weekend, Dyke bounced back with a solid outing on the mound, throwing 5.0 innings and allowing only one run. Jack Sauser added 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, striking out two.

Allen praised the team’s continued aggressiveness at the plate. Along with Goosenberg, Calarco led the Northwestern offense, reaching base three times with two hits and a walk. Redshirt junior David Dunn added his own pair of hits while sophomore designated hitter Stephen Hrustich hit his third home run of the series.

In the first matchup of Saturday’s doubleheader, Lavelle’s 5-inning start guided the ‘Cats to a 4-2 win in seven innings. Lavelle struck out six and gave up zero walks while only allowing two hits and one earned run.

“I’m happy with how I’ve been locating my fastball,” Lavelle said. “Getting that location down with it allows me to use my off-speed pitches as complements and mix up my speeds overall.”

Sophomore righthander Coby Moe came in for relief in the sixth inning, and Boeckle followed with a hitless seventh inning to pick up the save. Calarco and O’Donnell both went 2-for-3 at the plate with one RBI, and four other Wildcats each added a hit.

Northwestern dropped its only game of the series in the nightcap. Michigan State’s bats exploded for 17 hits, led by a 4-for-5 performance from reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Zaid Walker. Northwestern accumulated just one less error (5) than hits (6) in the 12-3 loss. Allen said improving infield defense will be a primary focus in practice this week.

On Friday, first-year infielder Vincent Bianchina, Hrustich and junior catcher Michael Trautwein combined for three grand slams in the first three innings, tying the NCAA record for the most grand slams in a game by a single team. The feat has been accomplished only eight times before in over 150 years of collegiate baseball, most recently in 2007 by Southeast Missouri State.

By the end of the third inning, the Wildcats led 13-1, providing ample run support for junior starter Mike Doherty. Nine different NU batters contributed at least one hit with Bianchina leading the way with three.

“We try to be locked in on offense from the start,” Goosenberg said. “Our goal is to figure out their starting guy’s best pitch and jump on it early. We don’t want them to get away with it like they did with other teams.”

Doherty earned the win on the bump, throwing 8.1 innings and striking out five, and first-year Ben Grable recorded the last two outs to seal the 14-2 victory.

With the series win, the Wildcats advance to a 5-3 record and will face the Minnesota Gophers (2-6) in a three-game series starting Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.