After years of futility, Northwestern baseball may finally be relevant. The Wildcats are headed to the Big Ten Tournament title game, sealing their spot with a 6-5 win over Maryland.
Northwestern will face Iowa in the finals at around 12:30 pm CT on BTN and on the radio at WNUR Sports. Northwestern baseball has never won the Big Ten Tournament since its inception in 1981. The winner will receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament, which Northwestern hasn’t made since 1957 (hey, at least we had one!). With Northwestern barely scraping .500 despite its wild run through the conference tournament, the Wildcats need to win to ensure a spot.
Against Maryland, Northwestern got started early, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a Jack Claeys three-run homer. In the second, a Jack Dunn single drove home two more runs. Another run scored when Matt Hopfner singled to left, bringing home Dunn. Just like that, Northwestern found itself up by six runs after just the first three frames.
Meanwhile, senior starting pitcher Cooper Wetherbee blanked the fourth-seeded Terrapins through six innings, ensuring the Wildcats would advance. Northwestern did not build on the early offensive explosion, but Maryland could not get anything going against Wetherbee. The lefty finished with nine strikeouts, tying a career high.
A one-out Maryland single and a walk in the seventh gave Wetherbee his first trouble of the morning. Allen brought in righty Pete Hofman to face Zach Jancarski for matchup purposes, ending Wetherbee’s day. Hofman proceeded to walk Jancarski, loading the bases for Brandon Gum who hit a grand slam to make it 6-4, because of course he did.
Northwestern did not score in the bottom of the seventh and Maryland mounted even more pressure in the top of the eighth. After Hofman allowed a baserunner, Spencer Allen called on Sam Lawrence. Lawrence was shaky and walked in a Maryland run, but he induced a huge inning-ending double play to close out the eighth. He pitched a scoreless ninth to close out Maryland. I guess that’s why they call it a “save”
Making the Big Ten Tournament in year two was a stunning achievement by itself. Now, Spencer Allen’s team is one game away from the NCAA Tournament. It’s an astonishing turnaround for the perennial doormat of the Big Ten. Everything’s coming up aces for Northwestern sports these days.