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Northwestern baseball drops two of three in season-opening series

After two rough performances on the mound, a pair of young arms earned the Wildcats a win on Sunday.

This weekend wasn’t quite the start to the season Northwestern baseball was looking for. The Wildcats dropped both games of a Saturday doubleheader against Nebraska-Omaha before salvaging the trip with their first win of the season on Sunday behind solid outings from two pitchers making their collegiate debuts.

Playing at the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, Northwestern lost its opener 14-8 before falling in the second game of the doubleheader 10-5. On Sunday, the Wildcats won a pitcher’s duel, 3-1.

The slightly concerning thing is that UNO went 12-40 last season. Teams can improve, sure, but third-year head coach Spencer Allen was no doubt hoping to win this series to kick off the 2018 campaign.

The Wildcats were undone by the big inning in their season opener, giving up four runs in both the third and fourth innings and six runs in the seventh, which composed all 14 runs scored by Nebraska-Omaha. Sophomore starter Hank Christie got knocked around a bit and couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning. Northwestern went down 14-4 after Mavericks lit up Matt Gannon in the seventh inning, although the Wildcats were able to make the score a little more respectable. Freshmen Casey O’Laughlin and David Dunn tallied their first career hits in a 4-run eighth, but the Wildcats had dug too deep of a hole to climb out of.

Northwestern got the bats going early in the nightcap, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Ben Dickey stole two bases and scored on an Alex Erro sac fly. The Wildcats would go on to score in each of the first four innings, highlighted by a Willie Bourbon two-run homer. Remarkably, the Wildcats scored five runs on only two hits.

Junior Danny Katz was sharp in his first career start. The Winnetka, Ill. native allowed a couple unearned runs in the third inning following an error. In the fifth, Katz was able to escape a bases-loaded jam only allowing one run. He finished his night surrendering one earned run in five innings with three strikeouts.

Unfortunately, things unraveled from there. The Mavericks scored in each of the game’s final five innings, scoring three runs off Ryan Bader to tie the game before Tyler Daugherty singled off J.R. Reimer in the eighth inning to give Nebraska-Omaha a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Sunday’s matinee showcased the future of the program in freshmen Quinn Lavelle and Jack Pagliarini. The two lefties combined to toss 8.2 innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk, surrendering only one run in the process. Lavelle started off his day by striking out the first two batters he faced and went five scoreless innings without allowing a run.

In his third start of the weekend, David Dunn notched his first career RBI with a groundout in the third inning and a run-scoring single in the sixth. Fellow freshman Jack Kelly earned a start behind the plate and knocked in a run with a groundout as well.

Pagliarini was able to make those runs stand up, tossing three scoreless innings in relief before Nebraska-Omaha scored on a wild pitch in the ninth. Sophomore Josh Levy earned the save by recording the game’s final out with the bases loaded.

A trio of juniors— Bourbon, Jack Dunn, and Ben Dickey— led the way offensively for the ‘Cats last weekend. Bourbon launched a home run and logged two more extra-base hits while Dickey and Dunn combined to hit 8-for-23 with five runs. David Dunn and O’Laughlin also logged multiple hits over the course of the weekend in their first college starts. Conspicuously absent from the starting lineup was sophomore Leo Kaplan.

The Wildcats travel to Lawrence next weekend to play Kansas. The Jayhawks were 20-12 at home in 2017 and are coming off a series victory over Murray State. First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 3 p.m.