As the regular season winds down and the Big Ten Tournament approaches, each conference game takes on much more significance. For a Northwestern team that hasn’t participated in the Big Ten’s postseason since 2010, that means a heightened sense of urgency.
With their tight 8-7 win over Purdue on Sunday afternoon in West Lafayette, the Wildcats (19-27, 8-10 Big Ten) took the weekend series from the Boilermakers and put themselves in striking distance of that all-importance No. 8 seed.
It was a successful Sunday on two fronts for the Wildcats, who picked a game up on Purdue (26-20, 10-8 Big Ten) and entered into a virtual tie with Michigan State for the final Big Ten Tournament spot. The Spartans lost 9-4 to Iowa, but since they took two of three in Evanston last weekend, Northwestern would be on the short end should the two teams be tied when the season ends.
Northwestern, like on Friday, scored the game’s first run in the opening inning as Alex Erro reached with a lead-off single and came around to score on a Joe Hoscheit double to deep right field. However, Matt Gannon struggled immediately and gave up a pair of runs in the Purdue half of the inning, signifying that he wouldn’t last long in the contest.
The freshman lefty made it through just three innings, allowing five runs before giving way to Josh Davis, who didn’t fare much better. On the bright side for Northwestern, the lead would shift five more times and would leave Northwestern on top.
Erro’s three-run home run in the second gave Northwestern a temporary 4-2 lead that lasted just until the third, when the Boilermakers stormed back against Gannon to score three runs and regain the advantage.
When warming up for the top of the fourth, Purdue starter Mike Kornacker suffered an apparent arm injury, though, which pressed Tanner Schumacher into service. Northwestern took the lead right back against Schumacher with a well-placed two-run bloop double from Jack Dunn that made it 6-5.
But Davis, after a clean fourth, got hit hard in the fifth and gave up back-to-back RBI singles to Skyler Hunter and Jacson McGown. Sophomore Tyler Lass entered and stranded a few Boilermakers to limit the damage and hold the Boilermakers’ lead at 7-6.
The Wildcats struck yet again in the next half-inning, tagging Jack Dellinger for two runs (one unearned) when Erro ripped a single to center that was misplayed by Hunter. Jake Schieber scored easily and Ben Dickey crossed the plate when the ball glanced off Hunter’s glove and rolled behind him.
Lass worked two more clean innings before Josh Levy and Pete Hofman combined for a scoreless eighth and ninth to preserve the 8-7 win. Hofman, who earned a three-inning save in Friday’s series opener, notched a more traditional one on Sunday, escaping a jam in the bottom of the eighth to do so.
There’s no mid-week game for the Wildcats this upcoming week. They’ll next be in action over the weekend in College Park against Maryland. The Terrapins just lost two of three to Illinois but they’re 18-1 at home this season, so it won’t be an easy task for Northwestern to at least take two of three.