Last season, Northwestern baseball didn’t win its first home Big Ten game until May 6th. In Spencer Allen’s second season as head coach, it happened much sooner.
Thanks to a stellar relief performance from freshman Sam Lawrence and some big bases-loaded hits, the Wildcats (9-20, 1-4 Big Ten) took down Iowa (19-10, 3-2 Big Ten) on a picturesque Saturday afternoon in Evanston, 7-5.
“They were probably a little embarrassed after Friday,” Allen said, referring to his team responding to the 14-2 blowout loss in the series opener. “It was great to see, and all the credit goes to them. They went out, and threw strikes and got clutch hits.”
Hank Christie got the start and struggled, allowing five runs in 4+ innings, but Lawrence shut down the Hawkeyes in his stead with five scoreless frames of near-perfect relief.
Much like Tommy Bordignon in Friday’s game, Christie used a double play to get out of the first inning unscathed as Mason McCoy hit a tailor-made grounder to Alex Erro for the 4-6-3 turn. However, he would run into more trouble in the second as Iowa took a 2-0 lead on a two-run shot by Tyler Cropley.
Cropley, two pitches before, hit a ball completely out of Rocky and Berenice Miller Park to left that was ruled foul by the third base umpire. His home run that did count wasn’t hit as far, but it gave the Hawkeyes their first runs of the day.
Northwestern responded soon, though, scoring five runs against Ryan Erickson in the bottom of the third to go up 5-2. Singles from Leo Kaplan and Alex Erro sandwiched a Ben Dickey walk to load the bases for Jack Dunn, who hit a double play ball that was booted by Mitchell Boe at second base. That scored Kaplan and led to an extended rally highlighted by a Joe Hoscheit two-run double.
Boe got one of the runs back in the fourth with a bloop single, scoring Cropley. In the next inning, the Hawkeyes drew even on a two-run bomb to left by Jake Adams, his Big Ten-leading 12th homer of the season. That ended Christie’s day, and the freshman left after allowing eight hits and five runs with four punchouts.
The Wildcats, after chasing Erickson, continued to tack runs on against Iowa’s relievers. They only sent six batters to the dish in the fourth and fifth with Zach Daniels on the mound, and finally pushed through in the sixth with the bases loaded.
Kaplan sent a ball to the wall in left, which handcuffed the leftfielder — Naperville native Chris Whelan — but only scored Hoscheit because of how much hang time it had. The next at-bat, Dickey laced a single of his own to make it 7-5 in favor of the home team.
“Sometimes freshmen are tough,” Allen said about Kaplan, whose two hits were both well-struck. “He struggled in the fall so we’ve tiptoed getting him in but to get that hit there with the bases loaded was huge.
Lawrence allowed just a pair of groundball singles that — if not for a uncharacteristically nonchalant play by Erro and the sun getting in Lind’s eyes at third — probably should have been outs.
“I wasn’t really scared of them,” Lawrence said about Iowa’s power-heavy lineup. “I knew Jake Adams is a big pull-hitter, so I had to work away to him...It’s about finding their weaknesses and pitching to them.”
He only struck out one, as the Hawkeyes made a lot of weak contact both in the air and on the ground. He varied his pitch selection well, and Iowa never was able to adjust.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Hawkeyes, and dropped them to fifth in the Big Ten behind Maryland.
Tomorrow’s rubber game will start at 1:00 pm, and Matt Gannon will be on the mound for the Wildcats. Cole McDonald will start for Iowa.