For all the struggles Northwestern baseball has gone through this season — particularly in Big Ten play — the Wildcats wrapped up their 2016 season with series wins in each of their last two conference sets, sandwiching a dreadful four-game sweep at the hands of the California Golden Bears.
This weekend, Northwestern went to New Jersey and took two of three from Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights saw their slim Big Ten Tournament hopes dashed with a 5-1 loss on Thursday afternoon. Northwestern, thanks to an eight-run 7th inning, took Friday's Game 2 while Rutgers salvaged the series on Saturday with a 10-7 victory. The Wildcats end their season with a 15-39 overall (7-17 Big Ten) record after taking five of their final six Big Ten games — including a sweep of Purdue two weeks ago.
In his final collegiate start Thursday, Reed Mason shined, holding Rutgers to three hits and one run in his seven innings of work. He got all the run support he would need in the top of the 1st, when Joe Hoscheit ripped a two-run home run to left field. Connor Lind added a run-scoring double in the 4th and Mat Jones capped off the day with a two-run shot in the 9th. Jake Stolley and Tyler Lass threw a shutout inning apiece to close out the win, Mason's fourth of the year.
Friday's Game 2, started by Joe Schindler, featured much more scoring and turned into one of the Wildcats' more exciting games of the season. Schindler was roughed up for seven runs (six earned) in five innings and left the game for Josh Davis after the 6th with Northwestern down 7-2.
But, the Wildcats used five (!) run-scoring singles to drop an 8-run spot in the 7th which gave them a 10-7 lead. Rutgers responded with a run in the 8th and two more in the 9th, but RBI singles from Ben Dickey and Jack Dunn in the top of the 9th provided some cushion for the 12-10 win.
Stolley got the start for Saturday's finale and got a no-decision as the Northwestern bullpen — namely Dan Kubiuk and Pete Hofman — struggled down the stretch. The Wildcats took an early 3-0 lead in the 1st on run-scoring hits from Lind and Dickey, but Stolley gave those runs right back in the bottom of the frame, putting Rutgers up 4-3.
His offense backed him up quickly, though, as the Wildcats added four runs combined in the 2nd and the 4th. However, Rutgers scored the game's final six runs off Stolley, Kubiuk and Hofman en route to the win.
The Wildcats won't be back in action until next February and won't have six current seniors, but should be improved considering the strong base of underclassmen Spencer Allen has at his disposal. And if the Purdue and Rutgers (not the Cal one, of course) series mean anything, better times are ahead for the Wildcats.