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Northwestern baseball: Home run troubles plague Reed Mason in series-opening loss

The Wildcats extend their Big Ten losing streak to four games in a row with another uneven performance.

Credit: Josh Burton
Credit: Josh Burton

On a chilly Friday afternoon in Evanston, Northwestern baseball's offense froze up in a 6-5 loss to the visiting No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gophers. Wildcats' ace Reed Mason took the loss as he allowed five runs (four earned) in 5+ innings while Minnesota's Matt Fiedler dominated the Northwestern lineup en route to his sixth win of the season.

Mason started the game off well, as he held a potent Golden Gophers' lineup -- which is among the best in Division 1 -- to just one run through four innings. But, a Connor Schaefbauer solo home run to the right in the top of the 5th broke a 1-1 tie and gave Minnesota (23-11 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) a lead it would hold the rest of the way. Then, after he gave up another bomb in the 6th -- this of the two-run variety to Toby Hanson -- Tommy Bordignon entered in relief.

By the time Bordignon worked his way out of the inning, the Golden Gophers were ahead 6-1 and well on their way to their ninth win in their last 10 games.

Northwestern (10-28, 2-11) actually got on the board first with a 2nd inning Jack Claeys sacrifice fly that plated Joe Hoscheit, who had tripled two batters before. However, that's basically all the offense the Wildcats would get against Fiedler until the 7th inning.

Thanks to walks from Connor Lind, Claeys and JR Reimer, the Wildcats forced Fiedler from the game in favor of Lucas Gilbreath with two outs and the bases loaded. Then, with his team needing a big hit, freshman Jack Dunn came through, ripping a single into right center that scored Lind and Willie Bourbon.

After a passed ball advanced Dunn to second, Zach Jones squeaked -- using some nifty backspin -- a grounder by Minnesota's shortstop, with the help of Dunn on the basepaths, to score two more runs and bring Northwestern within 6-5.

For a Wildcats team that had only two hits in the first six innings of today's game, and has struggled to get runs across as of late, the base knocks from Dunn and Jones were huge and got Mason off the hook after one of his weaker outings of the season. Clutch hitting, especially with runners in scoring position and with two outs, has been lacking.

Even the bullpen, which has been ineffective for much of the season, helped out in the effort, as Bordignon was able to hold the Golden Gophers to just one extra run in the 6th while Tyler Lass and Richard Fordon combined to post two perfect innings in the 7th and 8th.

Jake Schieber had a chance to tie the game, or take the lead, in the bottom of the 8th with runners on first and second with two outs against Minnesota's Gilbreath. But, he left both Joe Hoscheit and Willie Bourbon on base after striking out on a 2-2 pitch.

Converted starter Joe Schindler, still getting back into the flow of things after returning from his suspension, held serve in the top of the 9th, piecing a scoreless frame together around a Dan Motl single.

In their half of the last inning, the Wildcats got two men on -- via walks from Jack Dunn and Matt Hopfner -- with two outs, but a Joe Hoscheit popout against Jordan Jess stranded the tying and winning runs on base to ensure the 6-5 win for the Golden Gophers. The Wildcats needed just one more big hit with runners in scoring position but didn't get it.

These two teams will continue the series tomorrow afternoon at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park at 2:00 pm CST.