It took a couple of weekends, but Northwestern baseball seems to be figuring things out a bit.
The Wildcats (4-10) rebounded from a loss in their midweek home opener to UIC and took a shortened three-game series from the Portland Pilots (2-11), winning the final two games of the set. Prior to this weekend, Northwestern hadn’t won a series yet this season.
After four consecutive weekends of travel — three of which were out to the Pacific time zone — Northwestern will remain in the state of Illinois for the rest of March and most of April. The Wildcats’ next 11 games (and 16 of their next 17) will be in Evanston.
Thursday’s scheduled series opener was canceled due to bad weather, so freshman Hank Christie’s start was pushed back a day to Game 1 of Friday’s doubleheader. He struggled in his 4 2⁄3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits a week after spinning a complete game gem in a Wildcats’ win over Santa Clara.
Christie got through the opening frame unscathed, but a three-run home run by Portland’s Matt Kelly put him in a deep early hole. Joe Hoscheit got a pair of the runs back the next half-inning with a two-run shot to left, which scored Alex Erro. Unfortunately, that would be the Wildcats’ only real offense all day.
Ryan Hoogerwerf tagged Christie for a run-scoring double in the bottom of the 3rd that recouped some of the damage and made it 4-2. Christie struggled through another inning-plus before giving way to Pete Hofman, who stabilized things for three frames.
Northwestern just couldn’t make much contact against Portland’s Grady Miller, a tall lefty who struck out 12 Wildcats in his stellar seven innings. An insurance run in the 7th off Hofman made it 5-2, and Kevin Baker’s two-inning save shut the door. Christie got the loss, his second of the season, as his ERA climbed to 3.48.
In the day’s second game, usual reliever Josh Davis got a surprise start and was tagged for three runs in his three innings, but received some much-needed help from the offense.
The Wildcats got rolling early, scoring a pair of 1st inning runs on a Alex Erro groundout and Hoscheit sacrifice fly. Hoogerwerf drove Kelly in with a single to left in the 1st to make it 2-1 in favor of the visitors.
Davis ran into some more trouble in the 3rd, when a double, bunt single and walk loaded the bases with one out. He managed to strike Hoogerwerf out but Cody Hawken ripped a double to left that scored a pair and gave the lead to Portland.
Northwestern struck again in the 5th, taking the game right back with RBI singles from Matt Hopfner and Jack Claeys. A solo shot by Devin Kopas in the bottom half of the inning off Sam Lawrence tied the game at four before another two-run Wildcats’ rally — this in the 7th — put Northwestern ahead 6-4 for good. Lawrence and JR Reimer combined for six innings of one-run to close out the win.
The series wrapped up Saturday afternoon as another freshman, Josh Levy, started for the Wildcats and — despite five walks in his four innings — was pretty effective. He gave up three runs (one earned) on two hits, partially due to Levy’s own throwing error.
Ben Dickey helped Northwestern get on the board first with a 2nd inning triple that scored Connor Lind. But, the Wildcats’ defense helped Portland take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Behind run-scoring hits from Hoscheit and Erro in the 3rd — and a Hoscheit sacrifice fly — the Wildcats came right back as Levy settled into a groove.
After the Pilots got one back in the 4th, another sac fly from Hoscheit and doubles from Lind and Dickey added three more runs to Northwestern’s now 8-3 lead. Danny Katz made things interesting in the 7th and final inning, allowing a two-run home run to Hawken, but he made it through to preserve the 8-5 win and earn his first victory of the season.
Northwestern begins the long homestand this Friday at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park with a four-game set against Central Michigan.