It was Latin Heritage Night at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, but the only team in a dancing mood after Saturday's game was Penn State, as the Nittany Lions trounced Northwestern 8-2. After losing 4-2 on Friday, the Wildcats kept the tilt close for awhile before a disastrous 5th inning soured a beautiful Evanston day.
Northwestern (9-26 overall, 2-8 Big Ten) couldn't solve Penn State starter Sal Biasi for the first four innings, but by the time the Wildcats notched their first run on a Ben Dickey RBI groundout in the bottom of the 5th, they were already down 6-0. Dan Kubiuk got the start for the Wildcats against Penn State (21-14, 7-4) and lasted 4+ innings but gave up four runs.
He held the Nittany Lions off the board until the 3rd, when back-to-back run-scoring hits from Jordan Bowersox and Connor Klemann gave Penn State a 2-0 lead. Then, in the 5th, he let the first two batters get on base via a single and a walk before giving way to Josh Davis out of the bullpen. Davis promptly balked, gave up a two-run double to Nick Riotto and balked again before being replaced by Pete Hofman. He let two more Nittany Lions score -- one on a balk -- as Penn State went up 6-0.
On the other hand, Penn State's Biasi cruised through 6.2 innings as Northwestern couldn't string many hits together. Biasi wasn't overpowering or dominant by any means, but he kept the Wildcats off base and pitched to a lot of weak contact.
But, the Wildcats did "break though" somewhat in the bottom of the 5th, as Jack Dunn scored on Dickey's grounder to the Penn State shortstop. Unfortunately though, that would be Northwestern's only real scoring chance that was converted. Consecutive singles from Matt Hopfner and Joe Hoscheit with two outs in the 1st gave the Wildcats an opportunity to take an early lead but a Connor Lind groundout to third stifled any run potential, which is kind of how the entire game went for Northwestern.
After Hofman got through the 5th, Danny Katz entered the game for Northwestern and gave Spencer Allen a few good innings, even if he did give up a run in the 7th. Katz went two innings and allowed just the one score as he saved the Wildcats from having to go to Tommy Bordignon, who should be available -- if needed -- for tomorrow's series finale.
Northwestern only managed six hits all day, which -- after notching just four in yesterday's loss -- underlies one of the team's biggest problems this season. The pitching -- thanks to Joe Schindler's suspension and a general lack of depth -- has struggled at times, but that's to be expected with a young staff and a dearth of viable starting options. However, the hitting has been fairly inconsistent, a problem that has reared its ugly head in Big Ten play.
This team doesn't have the biggest margin of error with this staff, so 1-run and 4-hit games just aren't going to result in wins. The lack of extra base hits -- one today (a Willie Bourbon double) and none on Friday -- certainly doesn't help matters either.
These two teams close out this series tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 pm CST at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park as the Wildcats try to salvage at least one win.