Northwestern baseball — after starting the season with back-to-back wins against the Nevada Wolf Pack — finished nonconference play with just 3 wins in its final 19 games against non-Big Ten foes.
So Spencer Allen's team was surely happy to open up its conference slate this past weekend in Columbus against Ohio State with a win, as the Wildcats snapped their six-game losing streak against the Buckeyes on Friday night with a 6-5 victory on Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium. Then, after a 5-2 defeat on Saturday, Northwestern seemed headed to a series win on Sunday before a 2-run Jacob Bosiokovic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th off Pete Hofman. The Buckeyes won 5-4, dropping the Wildcats to 6-18 (1-2 Big Ten) on the year.
While most Northwestern students have had the past week off for spring break, the baseball team has played a game almost every day. After a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats last weekend, the Wildcats lost games to both Northern Kentucky and Miami (OH) before getting a day off Thursday before heading to Columbus.
That made Friday's game an important one for Northwestern, who got the win in it's Big Ten-opening game and got the bats going a little bit. The Wildcats got on the board first, scoring 2 runs apiece in the 1st and 6th innings to stake starter Reed Mason to a 4-0 lead. Some shaky Ohio State defense, along with a RBI single for Jack Dunn, led to Northwestern gaining another early advantage, as the Wildcats would prove to need all the runs they could get.
A 2-run home run for the Buckeyes' Nick Sergakis in the bottom of the 6th off Mason halved the NU lead but the junior righty was able to get through the frame. In his 6 innings of work, Mason gave up just the 2 runs (on 4 hits) with 6 strikeouts.
He was relieved by Tommy Bordignon, who got through the 7th fine but lost his control in the 8th as the Buckeyes tied the score up at 4 on a Sergakis RBI single and Tre' Gantt run-scoring walk, which came against Pete Hofman. Cooper Wetherbee came in to stop the bleeding and ended up earning the win when a Matt Hopfner single and Jack Claeys sacrifice fly put the Wildcats back up 6-4 in the 9th. Wetherbee gave a run back in the bottom of the frame before Dan Kubiuk got the final out and his first career save.
Northwestern took another early lead on Saturday, going up 1-0 on a Hopfner (who started the game on the mound) single but wasn't able to much else against Buckeye starter Adam Niemeyer the rest of the day. Hopfner allowed a run in the bottom of the inning thanks to a throwing error by Zach Jones and 2 more in the 2nd on run-scoring knocks from Craig Nennig and Troy Montgomery. Those would be all the runs Ohio State would need as Hopfner was chased in the 3rd and Niemeyer held the Wildcats to 2 runs in his 7 innings of work (with 8 strikeouts).
Connor Lind singled in Dunn in the 3rd to bring Northwestern within 3-2, but the Wildcats couldn't push anything else across while the Buckeyes got 1 run off Josh Davis and Jake Stolley en route to an easy 5-2 win.
The series' rubber game on Sunday featured a pitching matchup between Kubiuk and Ohio State's John Havird, and it was won by the sophomore walk-on. Kubiuk, who made his college baseball debut on February 19th against Nevada, held the Buckeyes to 2 runs in 5.2 innings, continuing his surprisingly strong presence in the Wildcats' rotation.
His team's offense helped him out immediately with 3 defense-aided runs in the top of the 2nd. But, Kubiuk gave up solo home runs to Troy Montgomery and Sergakis in the 3rd and 6th to let the Buckeyes get within a run. After failing to push any runs across in the top of the 6th with the bases loaded and no outs, the Wildcats got back on the board in the 8th on 2-out RJ Watters RBI single that scored Grant Peikert.
The Buckeyes responded in the bottom of the frame with a Sergakis sacrifice fly to make the score 4-3 in favor of Northwestern. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, Hofman —in his 3rd inning of work — got the first two batters out before walking Montgomery. Then, Jacob Boskiovic crushed a pitched over the fence in left field to send the home team fans and players into a frenzy. The 5-4 loss, which was just a pitch away from being a much-needed win for the Wildcats, turned into the toughest loss of the season, and a Big Ten one no less.
It would have been nice for Northwestern to win its first conference series of the year, especially one on the road against Ohio State. But the Wildcats have a chance to forget about this one quickly as their home opener in the brand new Rocky and Berenice Miller Park in Evanston is on Wednesday afternoon against Chicago State. After that, the Wildcats will host Michigan over the weekend.