Alex Erro’s clutch 11th inning home run on Sunday afternoon could turn out to be the most important hit of the entire season for Northwestern.
The freshman’s go-ahead bomb gave the Wildcats their second win of the weekend, clinching a series victory over Maryland. Entering play on Friday, the Terrapins had only lost one home game all season. By the time Northwestern left town, that amount had tripled.
Taking their second-straight road Big Ten series, Northwestern put itself in great position to make its first conference tournament appearance since 2010. Northwestern earned its fourth Big Ten series win in seven tries and has a very good chance for a fifth this weekend against Rutgers, one of the Big Ten’s worse teams.
The Wildcats have won four of their last six to move to 10-11 in conference play and into a seventh-place tie in the Big Ten standings with Purdue. Northwestern holds the tiebreaker over the Boilermakers after the Wildcats took two of three games in West Lafayette last weekend. The top eight teams in the conference make the tournament when the regular season concludes on Sunday.
Michigan State, which is one game behind Northwestern, faces Michigan in a three-game set and will probably need to take at least two of three from the 39-12 Wolverines to have a chance to make next week’s tournament in Bloomington. The Spartans and the Illinois Fighting Illini are the two teams below Northwestern that are still in contention and hold a tiebreaker over the Wildcats.
The Scarlet Knights will visit Evanston over the weekend after playing a two-game weekday set at Minnesota to make up early-season weather postponements. With five conference games in one week, the Rutgers pitching staff, which already has the worst ERA in the Big Ten, will be vulnerable.
Earning at least one win this weekend is probably the bare minimum for Northwestern, but a series win or sweep should be enough to get the job done.