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Northwestern baseball limps into weekend series with Maryland

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A midweek loss to Chicago State followed up three straight close losses to No. 25 Illinois

@NUCatsBaseball

The past week wasn’t kind to the Northwestern baseball team. After winning four of five to bring its record to 7-8, the Wildcats (7-12, 0-3 B1G) dropped four games this week, three to No. 25 Illinois and one to Chicago State on Tuesday. Northwestern played Illinois close three times in a row, taking the Fighting Illini to extra innings twice, before losing on a walk-off hit to Chicago State.

The Wildcats opened Big Ten play with their first home series at Rocky Miller Park. Freshman Quinn Lavelle got the ball and worked around two early home runs to pitch 6.1 innings, allowing three runs. Northwestern’s offense couldn’t get anything across against the Illinois starter but broke through in the eighth inning for three runs to bring the deficit to one on a Willie Bourbon sac fly. The rally fell short, however, and Illinois prevailed 5-4.

Northwestern rapped out ten hits on Saturday, including a 4-for-4 performance from senior Jack Claeys, and the Wildcats jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. Sophomore Hank Christie set down the first 13 batters he faced, but Illinois touched the right-handed for one run in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Claeys went deep to tie the game at four, and the two teams traded zeroes over the next three innings to send the game to extras.

Richard Fordon tossed 3.2 scoreless innings, but Illinois finally got to sophomore reliever Josh Levy in the 11th inning for a run. Northwestern couldn’t answer and the Wildcats fell 5-4 despite outhitting Illinois 10-8.

In the series finale, Northwestern got another solid outing from a young pitcher. This time, it was freshman Jack Pagliarini allowing only one unearned run over six innings while striking out seven. Northwestern took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning on a bunt single from Jack Dunn, but couldn’t extend its lead with the bases loaded. That proved to be costly, as Illinois would score a run off Tommy Bordignon in the ninth inning. A two-run homer from rightfielder Jack Yalowitz gave Illinois the lead for good in the tenth inning and the Fighting Illini left Evanston with a sweep that belied the closeness of the series. Getting two more good starts from Pagliarini and Lavelle has to make Spencer Allen happy, but the Wildcats couldn’t seem to put it all together in terms of coming up clutch when they needed a key hit.

Wednesday’s loss to Chicago State was the twist of the knife. The Cougars entered the game on a 15-game losing streak. Northwestern brought their bats early, scoring five runs in the game’s first two innings. Claeys and Alex Erro hit their second home runs of the season for the Wildcats. However, Matt Gannon failed to escape the third inning, allowing four earned runs, and Tyler Lass surrendered three more in relief as Chicago State took a 7-6 lead. Claeys tied the game with a fielder’s choice in the sixth, but Cougar reliever Robert Gonzalez kept the score tied for four innings. In the bottom of the ninth, Jacob Vanitvelt singled home a run off JR Reimer to give Chicago State the win.

Hey, at least there’s a new Dickey and Dunn to watch.

Northwestern will look to rebound against Maryland in a three-game weekend series. Friday’s matchup will be the conference opener for the Terrapins, who enter the series 12-13. First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CST.