Bolstered by a strong start from Josh Davis, the Northwestern Wildcats (14-22, 3-6 Big Ten) jumped out to an early lead over the UW-Milwaukee Panthers (12-21, 2-10 Horizon League) and withstood some shaky pitching out of the bullpen for a 6-4 victory Tuesday afternoon at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.
The senior Davis turned in his second-straight stellar midweek start to earn his third victory of the year, shutting the Panthers out over five innings and adding a career-high five strikeouts.
“He went out and set the tone,” coach Spencer Allen said. “He’s got good sink to his fastball when he’s down in the zone.”
Right fielder Matt Hopfner snagged a low line drive and doubled off a Milwaukee runner at first base to end a potential rally in the top of the first. The Wildcats took advantage of their turn at bat, as Jack Dunn was hit by a pitch and scored two batters later on an RBI single from last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week, Joe Hoscheit.
Dunn knocked in Northwestern’s second run an inning later with a bases-loaded single, one of three first-pitch hits in the frame by Northwestern off Milwaukee starter Jake Sommers.
“As a team, we were looking for pitches early in the count that we can drive,” leftfielder Leo Kaplan said. “This team was throwing a lot of strikes early in counts and we knew that, so we were going out there and trying to put good swings on the ball.”
Kaplan cracked a home run off reliever George Swedie to lead off the fourth inning, his third longball in eight days. A bases-loaded wild pitch with Jack Claeys at the plate scored two more Wildcats to push the lead to 5-0 as catcher Daulton Varsho had trouble finding the ball.
After Davis finished his fifth scoreless inning, Allen opted for the bullpen, bringing in JR Reimer and Tyler Lass, who each tossed a scoreless inning.
“I think we’re always trying to get guys in and see what they can do and a lot of times guys use those experiences to further their opportunities,” Allen said. “We saw some guys that took advantage and some guys that still need to work.”
Milwaukee rallied for a two-out run against Tommy Bordignon in the eighth inning on a John Boidanis single before scoring three runs off Nick Cauley in the ninth, which were helped by a couple sun-aided misplays.
Kaplan couldn’t handle a deep fly ball, putting runners on second and third who scored when Jack Dunn lost track of a grounder due to the bright sun. With the tying run at the plate, Allen opted to bring in Cooper Wetherbee to slam the door. The lefty struck out Varsho to earn his first save of the season.
With another Tuesday afternoon win in the bag, the Wildcats look ahead to a weekend series with Penn State. The Nittany Lions are last in the Big Ten with a 1-8 record in conference play.
“They’ve got a really good arm on Friday night so we’re gonna have to battle, scratch and claw,” Allen said. “It is a big series, and I don’t think I’m going to have to say anything since these guys understand that with five series left, we have to make some hay and we have to do it soon.”