On another beautiful Sunday afternoon in Evanston, Northwestern baseball suffered its third straight loss to Penn State, 11-3, as the Nittany Lions swept the weekend series from the home team.
After a competitive series last week in Lincoln against Nebraska and a mid-week win over Chicago State, the Wildcats (9-27 overall, 2-10 Big Ten) had some momentum heading into this weekend's set with Penn State (22-14, 8-4). Unfortunately, that didn't translate into any wins or many runs for the Wildcats.
Jake Stolley got the start on Sunday for Northwestern and gave up a 1st inning two-run homer to Greg Guers that spotted the Nittany Lions an early lead. In the bottom of the frame, the offense picked Stolley up with a 3-spot on six singles. Six of the first seven Wildcats to bat against Penn State starter Jordan Hagenman got on as Northwestern took the lead right back.
But, Stolley let the Nittany Lions regain the advantage in the top of the 2nd on a James Coates two-run shot to nearly the same spot in right field as Guers'. That put Penn State up 4-3 and marked an inconsistent start for Stolley, who was replaced by Tommy Bordignon after the inning.
Penn State would add a pair of runs in both the 5th and 6th innings against Bordignon and Joe Schindler, respectively, as Northwestern struggled to find its hitting stroke from the opening frame. That gave Penn State a 8-3 lead. The Wildcats -- who matched their hits total from Saturday in the 1st inning alone (six) -- managed just seven singles over the next eight innings and couldn't get anything across against Hagenman, who left after six strong innings of work.
Seldom-used Richard Fordon pitched the 8th and gave up a run on a sacrifice fly -- Penn State had four on the day -- and then J.R. Reimer got the 9th, allowing two runs of his own. Spencer Allen had to dig deep into his bullpen today and is sure to be happy to not have to deal with Penn State's bats anymore this season.
Obviously, the two home runs off Stolley are a little troubling, especially because both were hit by lefthanded batters and each came on pitches on the inner half of the plate. Because he doesn't throw particularly hard, Stolley is playing with fire when he goes inside against lefties, and he got burned today.
Also, the Wildcats' lack of extra base hits is another thing that has really hurt the offense as of late. All 13 of Northwestern's hits today were singles and while those led to runs in the 1st inning, the Wildcats' inability to move along runners in scoring position resulted in the less-than-optimal scoring output. Over the three games of this series, Northwestern scored a total of seven runs, which is just not going to cut it against the good offensive teams around the conference.
The Wildcats have a quick turnaround, as they head to the South Side on Tuesday for a matchup with the Chicago State Cougars. Back on March 30, in the first game at the new Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Northwestern dispatched Chicago State 11-5. Then, this upcoming weekend, the Wildcats welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers to Evanston for a three-game Big Ten series.