It didn’t come easy, but Northwestern baseball earned its first conference series win, and its first series win in six weeks, sweeping Penn State in College Park over the weekend.
The Wildcats (13-24, 4-14 B1G) must have been watching the softball team closely, as Northwestern unleashed two late-inning comebacks to sweep a Saturday doubleheader, before prevailing in a sloppy matinee to sweep the Nittany Lions.
Figuring heavily into both comebacks was sophomore infielder Charlie Maxwell. The Evanston native had a career weekend, raising his season average from .213 to .235 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run.
Friday night’s game was postponed in the eighth inning due to rain, with Northwestern trailing 6-4. In the ninth, the ‘Cats rallied to bring the deficit to one on a Jack Claeys RBI single. Then, Maxwell stepped to the plate and launched a two-run triple to the warning track, giving Northwestern a 7-6 lead before Matt Gannon closed out the Nittany Lions in the ninth.
Hank Christie, Ryan Bader, and Tyler Lass struggled with control in the second game, surrendering four walks, three hit by pitches, and three wild pitches as Penn State took a 7-2 lead into the seventh inning.
Half an inning later, Maxwell made his mark on the game again, homering after back-to-back singles to make the score 7-5. The Wildcats took advantage of some Penn State miscues, and a Willie Bourbon two-run single gave Northwestern a six-run inning and an 8-7 lead it would not relinquish.
Sunday’s series finale was sloppy, featuring 12 walks and seven errors between the two teams. The top of Northwestern’s lineup (Jack Dunn, Alex Erro, and Jack Claeys) combined to go 6-for-14 with five runs on the day, and it was RBI doubles from Erro and Claeys that gave Northwestern a 3-1 lead in the third.
Freshman starter Jack Pagliarini was erratic early on, and head coach Spencer Allen replaced the southpaw in the third inning with freshman Anthony Alepra, who only had 3.2 innings of experience ahead of Sunday’s outing. Alepra was fantastic over four innings, allowing only one run and four hits, earning his second career win.
Northwestern added three more runs in the fifth on two bases-loaded walks and a sacrifice fly. Tommy Bordignon closed out the game with two scoreless innings to earn his fifth save of the year. A year removed from a miserable 2017 campaign that saw Bordignon lose his rotation spot midway through the season, Bordignon has been Northwestern’s most improved pitcher. Opponents are batting only .214 against the senior, and Bordignon has allowed only one earned run in his last ten appearances.
A win earlier in the week means Northwestern is riding a four-game winning streak, which matches its longest streak of the season. The Wildcats play five games this week, hosting Chicago State in Evanston this afternoon, before heading to Kalamazoo, Mich. to play Western Michigan on Wednesday afternoon. From there, Northwestern will travel to West Lafayette for a weekend series with Purdue. The Boilermakers (24-16, 10-4 B1G) are currently third in the conference standings and are owners of an eight-game winning streak.