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Northwestern rallies in the ninth to top Michigan in Big Ten tourney

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The ‘Cats were winless when trailing heading into the ninth before today’s 6-4 win.

BTN

Northwestern entered the top of the ninth inning Wednesday afternoon facing daunting odds. Down 4-3 to Michigan, the Wildcats had yet to win a game in which they trailed after eight innings, holding an 0-23 mark on the season. Northwestern would also have to get to hard-throwing Michigan closer Jackson Lamb and his perfect 0.00 ERA to have a chance. Somehow, the resilient Wildcats got it done. Northwestern (25-28, 14-11 Big Ten) toppled the 16th-ranked Wolverines (42-15, 16-9) 6-4 to move into a second-round Big Ten tournament matchup with Minnesota tomorrow.

Three batters into the inning, Lamb was headed to the showers and the Wildcats had the bases loaded with no one out. Jack Claeys led off with a sharp single to right, and pinch runner Charlie Maxwell advanced to second on a wild pitch. Third baseman Connor Lind, who finished the day 2-4, singled ahead of a Leo Kaplan walk to bring up Ben Dickey with the bases full. Michigan coach Erik Bakich pulled another strong arm out of his bullpen in lefty William Tribucher to face Dickey, but the right fielder lined a base hit to left field to bring home Maxwell and tie the game.

Grant Peikert followed with a high chopper to short, which scored Lind when Michigan’s Michael Brdar couldn’t scoop the grounder cleanly. He did make an incredible flip to third to get a force out, though. Finally, Alex Erro lined a two-strike single up the middle to extend the lead to 6-4 and cap off a three-RBI day for the freshman.

Entering his fourth inning of relief, Sam Lawrence hit Jake Bivens with a pitch to lead off the bottom of the ninth and head coach Spencer Allen opted for Pete Hofman to close out the game. With the tying run at the plate, Hofman set down the Wolverines in quick succession, inducing a lineout and a pop-up before striking out Harrison Wenson for his fourth save of the season.

All three runs were charged to Lamb.

Early on, Northwestern’s offensive output came by way of the long ball. Connor Lind laced a 3-2 fastball over the rightfield fence to give the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead in the top of the second.

Michigan evened the score in the bottom half of the inning with a Bivens double followed by a Nick Poirier single off Cooper Wetherbee. The ‘Cats would take the lead back on a two-run Erro home run, his fifth of the season. The stud second baseman cranked an 0-2 fastball just inside the rightfield foul pole in the top of the third.

Johnny Slate brought the Wolverines back within one with a home run of his own in the bottom half of the third. For the next six innings, Northwestern was more or less stymied by the powerful arms of Ryan Nutof and Mac Lozer. Wildcat hitters went down by way of strikeout nine times before their ninth inning rally.

Wetherbee made the one-run lead stand until a jam in the fifth inning. Jonathan Engelmann doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt before Big Ten batting champ Ako Thomas doubled him home. Wetherbee lost his control against Slater, throwing a wild pitch on a 3-2 count. Thomas hesitated before trying to advance to third, but a wild throw from Claeys allowed Thomas to score for a 4-3 Michigan advantage. Wetherbee escaped the inning without further damage and was charged with three earned runs over five innings.

Setting up the Wildcat success in the top of the ninth was Lawrence, who threw three scoreless innings of relief, allowing only one hit. The freshman ran into trouble in the bottom of the eighth when a single and a hit by pitch put runners on the corners with one out. Yet the lefty induced a groundball from Miles Lewis that Erro and Jack Dunn turned into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and coax Lamb out of the bullpen for the ninth inning.

Following Minnesota’s 5-4 win over Indiana, Northwestern will meet the 3-seed Golden Gophers (34-19, 16-8) tomorrow at 4:00 CT in Bloomington. A win would give the Wildcats a day off and a place in the tournament’s semifinal game, while a loss would mean a matchup with the winner of tomorrow’s Indiana-Michigan matchup in an elimination game.

This young Northwestern team has won six in a row and after beating one of the 20-best teams in the country, looks to be capable of making some serious noise.