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Northwestern drops two of three to Illinois despite another comeback effort

A furious late-game surge just wasn’t enough in Sunday’s rubber game.

Credit: NUSports.com

A ninth inning rally fell just short as Northwestern (13-22, 3-6 Big Ten) fell 10-8 to Illinois (14-19, 3-6 Big ten) on Sunday afternoon, dropping two of three games in Champaign over the weekend. The Wildcats had the game-tying run on first base with one out, but Illinois closer Joey Gerber slammed the door with a strikeout and a groundout to seal the win for the Illini.

The Wildcats came into the series winners of four in a row, including two mid-week non-conference wins over Western Michigan and Bradley, but could not earn a second straight Big Ten series win against their in-state rival.

Left fielder Joe Hoscheit led Northwestern offensively all weekend, going 8-for-14 with two home runs and seven RBIs. He got the Wildcats on the board in the fourth inning of Sunday’s finale, going deep to left field to cut the Illini lead to 2-1.

Head coach Spencer Allen pulled starter Matt Gannon in the third after Ben Troike knocked in a run with a single and another came home on a groundout. Josh Levy relieved Gannon and held the Illini scoreless until the fifth, when Jack Yalowitz went deep for his seventh home run of the year.

Northwestern tied the game with a rally in the top of the sixth when Jack Claeys doubled home Matt Hopfner to knock Illinois starter Matthew James out of the game. That was followed by a RBI single from Connor Lind, which put the Wildcats ahead.

Illinois quickly regained the lead, scoring five runs in the bottom of the inning. Northwestern burned through three pitchers, as Tommy Bordignon was charged with two earned runs and Richard Fordon surrendered three more. Yalowitz and Michael Massey both smacked two-run singles as the Illini batted around in the frame.

Two more Illinois runners came home in the bottom of the seventh, putting the game out of reach for Northwestern. A Lind bases-clearing double and a Leo Kaplan RBI groundout cut the deficit to three before Northwestern came up just a few runs short in the ninth, losing 10-8.

Allen’s team lost another heartbreaker on Friday night, falling 4-3 in 11 innings. Cooper Weatherbee got the start for Northwestern and turned in a solid performance, striking out three batters over the first three innings before running into trouble in the fourth with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a Hoscheit RBI double. Illinois ripped off three consecutive hits and took the lead on a two-run Trent Hammond double to take the lead.

Illini starter Ty Weber stymied the Wildcats over seven innings, allowing only one earned run on a seventh inning home run from Kaplan. Northwestern then rallied to tie the game in the eighth off reliever Ryan Thompson as Alex Erro, leading off, was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt before Hoscheit slapped a single up the middle to score the game-tying run.

From then on, it was a war of attrition. Pete Hofman came in for Northwestern and pitched three perfect innings, but his offense could not get anything further against the Illinois bullpen.

In the bottom of the 11th, Hofman allowed back-to-back hits before surrendering a walk to load the bases with no outs. With a full count to Illinois pinch-hitter Tyler Engel, Hofman missed low and Illinois walked off with a 4-3 victory.

The ‘Cats brought their bats to the ballpark on Saturday, evening the series with a 12-hit performance in a 11-4 win.

Matt Hopfner opened the scoring with a deep drive to center that ricocheted off the wall back toward the field of play. Hopfner raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run that also scored Alex Erro and Jack Dunn.

Willie Bourbon burst out of a 6-for-29 slump with a two-run triple in the third, part of a 2-for-4 day for the first baseman. Hoscheit buried Illinois with a fourth-inning grand slam to put Northwestern 10-2.

Scattering eight hits over six innings, Hank Christie turned in a quality start for his second win of the season. Fellow freshman Sam Lawrence continued his strong work on the mound, closing the game with three solid innings to earn his first career save. Including his scoreless frame on Sunday, Lawrence has gone 14 innings without allowing an earned run.

Northwestern comes home for a Tuesday matinee against UW-Milwaukee at 3:30 pm CST before heading to Happy Valley this weekend for a three-game set with Penn State.