The process was different for Northwestern baseball on Sunday afternoon, but the end result was the same. The Wildcats, who led the Wolverines 8-6 after three innings, blew another lead en route to a 11-9 loss. That completed a series sweep for Michigan, which won the two other games of the set in Friday's doubleheader.
Before the game, the official ceremony for the new Rocky and Berenice Miller Park was held as multiple donors and their families were introduced and collectively threw out the first pitch. It was a beautiful day in Evanston and with a pretty good crowd turnout for the fourth game of the renovated ballpark's existence. Everything except for the final result was picture perfect.
Northwestern (7-21 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) struck first in the bottom of the 1st as a Joe Hoscheit sacrifice fly scored Jack Dunn to give the home team an early 1-0 lead. But, Wildcats starting pitcher Matt Hopfner (who also batted 3rd) ran into trouble in the 2nd, as the Wolverines (20-5, 3-0) pushed across two runs thanks to a mix of poor defense, a hit by pitch and a few singles. That began a cycle of each team retaking the lead in their half of the inning and then giving it up when the other got to the plate.
The Wildcats fought back in the bottom of the frame, scoring a pair of runs on a hit by pitch and a walk to go back up 3-2. Michigan responded with a 4-run top of the 3rd -- two of the runs came on a poorly handled fielder's choice by Dunn at shortstop. However, the freshman would quickly redeem himself, crushing a grand slam -- his first college home run -- to left field in the bottom of the 3rd as part of a 5-run rally that put Northwestern ahead 8-6.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, those runs would be the last they would score until the 8th. After the Wolverines regained a narrow 9-8 advantage in the 4th off new reliever Tommy Bordignon, Northwestern was shut down by the Michigan bullpen for the middle portion of the game.
Freshman reliever Mack Rosman entered for Bordignon in the 5th and calmed things down for the next few innings, pitching two frames of scoreless ball. Michigan added on two insurance runs in the 8th off Cooper Wetherbee, who replaced Rosman, on a couple of hard-hit extra base knocks to the gaps.
The Wildcats got back on the board in the 8th but only were able to score one run with the bases loaded and no outs. A Connor Lind fielder's choice scored Matt Hopfner when Michigan third baseman Jake Bivens' throw home hit Hopfner in the back. But, Jack Claeys, Willie Bourbon and Grant Peikert all struck out with a chance to tie the game or give the Wildcats a lead. Josh Davis held serve over the final 1.1 innings to hold Michigan at 11, but Northwestern didn't get anything across in the bottom of the 9th.
Not taking advantage of that golden opportunity really came back to hurt Northwestern, as it was their only legitimate scoring chance in the late innings.
There was a combined eight hit by pitches in this game, five by Michigan pitchers and three by Northwestern pitchers. Interestingly, eight different players were hit by pitches, so, at the very least, the pain was spread out evenly. There was a bit of a scary moment in the 3rd inning when it appeared that Connor Lind was hit in the ear area by a Keith Lehmann pitch. He was a little shaken up but stayed in the game and was fine.
Jack Dunn continues to impress
The freshman shortstop added three hits today to go with five RBIs (mostly due to his grand slam) and is third on the Wildcats in total hits (and second in batting average, behind Matt Hopfner). He didn't have a great game defensively but has been one of the team's most reliable players all season and shows instincts beyond his years, especially in terms of working at-bats. He should be a middle infield mainstay for a long time for Spencer Allen.