For the second straight weekend, Northwestern baseball lost two of three games and thus the series. Yet for the second straight weekend, there was no shortage of encouraging performances from the young Wildcats.
Spencer Allen’s team traveled to Lawrence, KS, this weekend for a three-game set with the Kansas Jayhawks of the Big 12. Northwestern’s late rally fell short in a 4-2 loss in Friday’s series opener. On Saturday, NU’s bats came to life in a big way. Led by breakout early-season star Willie Bourbon’s near-cycle, the Cats put up 18 runs and evened the series. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the job done in the rubber game, falling 10-3.
Bourbon, a junior first baseman from Stevenson High School, went 6-for-14 with a pair of home runs and 7 RBI for the series. He also homered in NU’s season-opening series against Nebraska Omaha, meaning Bourbon has already set his career high in bombs. Through six games, he’s batting .375 and slugging 1.000 thanks to 7 of his 9 hits going for extra bases. It’s been a red-hot start for a player who hit just .164 last year.
Allen got contributions from a number of other batters up and down his lineup during the weekend. The problem is that basically all of his pitchers struggled. None of Northwestern’s three starters made it out of the fifth inning, which is less than ideal. The bullpen, which was a major liability last season, similarly struggled for most of the series.
In Friday’s opener, freshman lefty Quinn Lavelle got the start after throwing 5 impressive scoreless innings in his collegiate debut. He wasn’t quite as sharp in his second time out. Lavelle gave up a solo jack in the first inning and a two-run shot in the 4th as NU fell behind 3-0. Kansas chased him in the fifth by adding another run; Lavelle’s final line was 4.2 IP, 5H, 3BB, 4 ER, 4 Ks.
Jayhawks starter Jackson Goddard cruised through 5 scoreless innings before giving up RBI singles to Alex Erro and Bourbon in the sixth. Two runs was all Northwestern would muster, as KU’s bullpen allowed just one hit in the final 3.2 innings of the game.
On Saturday, a shootout broke out in Lawrence. Bourbon got things started with a dinger, but everyone chipped in for Northwestern’s offense. A David Dunn RBI triple in the fourth gave the Cats a 9-1 lead on the road. Kansas cut it to 9-4 before Bourbon drove in two more with a triple of his own in the fifth, putting him a single short of the cycle. He would come up in his next two at-bats, unfortunately.
Kansas cut the deficit to 5 twice but NU always had an answer. The final score was 18-12, with the two offenses combining for 36 hits. Not a great day to be a pitcher. Senior 3B Connor Lind drove in three runs for the Cats, with catcher Jack Claeys and OF Leo Kaplan also driving in multiple runs.
Pitching once again was a struggle for Northwestern on Sunday as it dropped the rubber game of the series. Bourbon gave the Cats a 1-0 lead with his third long ball of the season in the top of the second inning, but Kansas responded with 3 runs off NU junior starter Danny Katz in the bottom half of the frame. The Jayhawks chased Katz in the fifth and went up 6-1. A clutch 2-out, 2-run single by Kaplan in the 7th cut the deficit to 6-3, but that was as close as NU would get. Kansas went on to win 10-3 to drop the Cats to 2-4 on the season.
Northwestern has another tough Big 12 series ahead of it this weekend. The Wildcats travel to Austin, TX for a 4-game set with the Longhorns. It’ll be up to the pitching staff to give Northwestern’s offense a chance to win some games.