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Bats stay frigid as Northwestern baseball drops three straight to Michigan

The losses are starting to mount as the Wildcat offense struggles.

Cold weather and a hot Michigan Wolverines baseball team made for a lopsided weekend series at Rocky Miller Park, as Northwestern (8-17, 1-8 B1G) was outscored 16-3 in a three-game sweep. The Wildcats managed only three hits in 18 innings on Saturday before dropping a back-and-forth game Sunday afternoon.

Inclement weather canceled Friday’s contest, setting up a Saturday doubleheader with temperatures hovering around freezing and lots of players wearing hoodies and balaclavas. Unbothered by the cold was Michigan lefty Tommy Henry, who struck out nine Wildcats and allowed only two hits over six shutout innings. Freshman Quinn Lavelle, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, acquitted himself well over the first four innings but ran into trouble in the fifth. The lefty surrendered a RBI single to Ako Thomas before consecutive RBI doubles made it a four-run inning. Northwestern could only manage two walks over the final three innings before falling 6-0.

The second half of the doubleheader was another pitcher’s battle. Northwestern starter Hank Christie rebounded from his previous start, where he didn’t escape the first inning, to throw six solid innings, allowing only one earned run. Unfortunately, a Willie Bourbon single was the only offense Northwestern could muster all game against Michigan starter Ben Dragini. The lefty lowered his Big Ten-best ERA to 1.13 after tossing seven innings and striking out five.

All the excitement in the game came in the fifth inning, when Michigan’s Jacob Blomgren and Northwestern’s Nick Paciorek got into a verbal altercation following a bunt and a frigid crowd at Rocky Miller Park saw a whole lot of yelling, but in typical baseball fashion, no actual fighting occurred. Moments later, a safety squeeze netted two runs for the Wolverines when Connor Lind was called for interference, giving Michigan a 3-0 lead that held until the finish.

Sunday’s contest proved more competitive. Northwestern knocked around Michigan’s starter a bit, scoring runs in the third and fourth innings to give starter Jack Pagliarini a 2-0 lead. The freshman was solid into the fifth inning, striking out eight, but his five walks pushed up his pitch total and he departed after 4.1 innings with a 2-1 lead.

The Wolverines clawed back against Tommy Bordignon to score two unearned runs before catcher Jack Claeys homered for the fifth time this year to knot up the score at three. The teams traded zeroes for three innings, but this was not Northwestern’s series. Michigan scored four times in the top of the ninth and left Evanston with a sweep.

Pitching was a huge question mark coming into the season, and Spencer Allen has to feel good about his starting rotation as Lavelle, Christie, and Pagliarini all put the Wildcats in a position to win this weekend. The bats are another story. Northwestern is currently 12th in the Big Ten with a .225 batting average and 11th in the league in runs with 117. More production from veteran players at the bottom of the lineup, like Ben Dickey (.140/.315/.174) and Connor Lind (.147/.259/.191) is necessary.

Northwestern gets a chance to end its five-game skid on Wednesday at Notre Dame, before heading to Bloomington for a weekend set with Indiana.