The script is getting familiar for the Northwestern baseball team.
A slow start on the mound leads to an early deficit. The starting pitcher steadies himself and holds his opponent scoreless in the middle innings. The offense claws back but can’t seem to find the clutch extra-base hit it needs to get over the top. And when the game is in the balance in the late innings, a cold offense (.225/.329/.325) can’t seem to come through.
The Wildcats’ conference losing streak reached 11 after a three-game home sweep at the hands of Michigan State this weekend. Northwestern (9-24, 1-14 BIG) was much more competitive than it was in Bloomington last weekend, but the result was the same.
Freshman starting pitchers Quinn Lavelle and Jack Pagliarini had very similar outings in their respective starts on Friday and Sunday. Michigan State jumped on Lavelle for five runs in the first inning on Friday afternoon. The lefty was able to settle in afterwards, eating four scoreless innings to keep the Wildcats in the game.
Led by Connor Lind, who went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, Northwestern battled back to trim the deficit to 5-3 by the fourth inning. Yet there would be no late-inning magic for the Wildcats, and the two teams traded zeroes for the remainder of the game.
On Sunday, Pagliarini surrendered four runs on the first inning, but the freshman quickly found his stuff afterwards. Pagliarini set down eight Spartan batters on strikes to push his season total to 52, good for tenth in the Big Ten. The lefty retired 15 hitters in a row to close out his afternoon.
After mustering only six hits, four of them singles, in a 4-2 loss on Saturday, the Wildcats brought some power in the series finale. Jack Claeys opened the scoring for Northwestern in the third inning with an RBI single, before Willie Bourbon and Charlie Maxwell both went deep in the sixth inning. It was Bourbon’s first home run since March 3, and Maxwell’s first career dinger, evidenced by the sophomore’s broad smile as he rounded the bases.
Bourbon came through again in the bottom of the seventh with a booming two-run double to give Northwestern a 5-4 lead. The bullpen could not make the lead hold, however. Richard Fordon allowed a two-run home run to Zack McGuire in the top of the eighth and Michigan State made the lead stand. It was the third loss Fordon has earned in his last four appearances.
The Wildcats have a good chance to turn it around this week. A four-game road trip looms, but Northwestern will have a good chance at a win when they take on UIC in Chicago on Tuesday, before a three-game series with fellow Big Ten cellar-dweller Penn State.