Before the Wildcats’ season-opening series this past weekend down in Arizona, Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen mentioned that closing out games would be important for his team. As Arizona State’s three-game sweep of Northwestern showed, that might be a real problem going forward.
Despite holding the lead or being tied in the 8th inning or later in both Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader and Sunday’s rescheduled game, the Northwestern Wildcats (0-3) dropped all three games to the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Northwestern scored just a total of six runs all weekend.
Northwestern actually won its first two games in the 2016 season, Allen’s first, but would only win 13 the rest of the year, culminating in a 15-39 record. The Wildcats knew they had a tough task this opening weekend against an Arizona State team coming off a trip to the NCAA Regionals back in June.
Senior Joe Schindler got the start in Game 1 on Friday and pitched well despite earning the loss. The Eugene, Ore. native gave up two earned runs in 5 1⁄3 innings and struck out four Sun Devils. Pete Hofman also allowed a run in his 1 1⁄3 innings out of the bullpen.
The problem was not the pitching, though. The Wildcats only notched three hits on the day, as they couldn’t figure out Arizona State starter Eli Lingos, who threw 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings. But, down 3-0 in the top of the 9th, Northwestern got the bases loaded with one out and a chance to mount a massive comeback.
A Jack Claeys walk forced in Alex Erro for Northwestern’s first run, but both Jake Schieber and Nick Paciorek struck out swinging against the Sun Devils’ Chaz Montoya to end the rally and the game.
Freshman Hank Christie made his college debut in Game 2, and the Oak Park native impressed. He held Arizona State to just three baserunners during his 3 2⁄3 scoreless frames before giving way to Richard Fordon. The Wildcats spotted Christie a trio of runs, all aided by four of the Sun Devils’ five errors.
Fordon’s own throwing error helped Arizona State push a run across in the 5th to make it 3-1. Then freshman Sam Lawrence allowed another in the 7th on a Ryan Lillard RBI single. The combo of another freshman, Nick Cauley, and pitching convert J.R. Reimer held the lead until the 9th. An incredible relay by Joe Hoscheit to Jack Dunn to Claeys nabbed Jeremy McCuin at the plate in the 8th to keep the Wildcats ahead by a run.
In the 9th, Gage Canning led off with a double and Andrew Snow followed with a run-scoring single to left field which tied the game at three runs apiece. Then, usual outfielder (and occasional pitcher) Matt Hopfner relieved Reimer, and retired Carter Aldrete and Lillard to bring Northwestern within an out of extra innings. But then Lyle Lin moved Snow to second with a seeing-eye single, setting up Sebastian Zawada’s walk-off base knock.
The series finale started on Saturday, but in the third inning was suspended due to the weather. Before the inclement weather, a 1st inning RBI single from Connor Lind gave freshman Matt Gannon a run to work with in his own college debut, but he left after two innings with the score tied at 1.
With Cooper Wetherbee on the mound the next day, an RBI single by Lyle Lin gave Arizona State the one-run lead in the 3rd. Grant Peikert would respond the next inning with a single that scored Claeys. However, the Wildcats’ bats would go ice cold from then on, as the Sun Devils retired the last 16 batters to end the game. The tie would hold until the bottom of the 8th when a pair of two-run doubles by McCuin and Sam Ferri broke the game wide open, finalizing the score at 6-2.
Northwestern put together 10 hits in the 27 innings of the series.
The Wildcats return to action next Friday in Nashville against Middle Tennessee as they look to get into the win column this season.