The weather in Evanston told the story. Northwestern entered the sub 50 degree day at 7-21 (1-5 in the Big Ten), and as the skies moved from bright blue to dreary grey, so did Northwestern's chances in this one slowly fade. In the end, Northwestern fell 7-0 and picked up its 22nd loss of the year to the UIC Flames (11-16, 3-2 in the Horizon League).
Northwestern's goals for the season are not tied to April non-conference games, so it should be no surprise that the Wildcats pitched 7 pitchers in this one in an effort to keep the arms fresh for the big weekend series on the road against Nebraska.
But while the Wildcats gave up 7 runs the arms weren't the real issue for the Wildcats. Once again, miscues with the gloves gave Northwestern's opponents extra outs. Couple that with some sleepy Wildcat bats and UIC would cruise and pull away to an easy victory.
Things were going fine for the Wildcats early. They put runners in scoring position early and looked the more dangerous team. Then, with 2 outs in the 4th, things started to get away from them. A throwing error from second baseman Willie Bourbon put UIC's Conor Philbin on first. Then, Rob Calabrese hit an innocuous single to right, but Matt Hopfner misplayed it, allowing Philbin to come all the way around to score. The next UIC batter hit a sinking liner to center, and Grant Peikner took a risk, laying out to try and snag it, but missed it, and the ball rolled all the way to the fence. One more seeing eye single made it 4-0, and the stage was set for the rest of the afternoon.
Northwestern looked dangerous at the plate early, but the hits dried up up quick. Northwestern didn't record a hit after the third inning. Zach Jones was the lone bright spot for Northwestern, recording a pair of hits and making a nice diving tag at first to add to his highlight reel. Matt Hopfner and Joe Hoscheit were the only other Wildcats to hit their way on base.
UIC tacked on insurance runs in the 5th, thanks to a few walks and a sharp hit double, and added one more in the 8th. The Flames, who beat Northwestern 11-2 the first time these teams met back on March 8th, hit the ball well against every purple shirt that took the bump. They tallied 12 hits and 4 walks to get 7 runs, and there could've been more had they not had a man picked off at third and foolishly tested Matt Hopfner's arm in right to make the first out of the 5th inning.
Another game, another loss for Northwestern who've dropped 4 straight and 12 of their last 14.
Take a Bow, UIC Outfielders
The UIC left fielder provided the highlight of the day, making a sprawling, sliding catch in foul territory shallow left while crashing into the wall to make a catch of a Willie Bourbon fly ball. It was a true SportsCenter top 10 moment in what was an otherwise straightforward contest. Then Conor Philbin might a full extension diving grab deep in the right field gap in the 8th inning. It seemed fitting that the hardest hit ball off a Northwestern bat still found its way into a UIC glove.
A Bad Day for Baserunners
There were more than a handful of questionable base-running decisions today at Miller Park. Two UIC players were picked off, including the aforementioned Scott Ota who was picked off of third base. Another Flame, Brandon Gibis, made the first out of the 5th inning by being easily thrown out at the plate. Northwestern's Zach Jones was questionably waved around 3rd in the 3rd inning and easily gunned out at home as well. When you have 12 hits like UIC did, those mistakes end up not mattering. When you're Northwestern and you only have only 4, the mistakes prove to be a little more costly.