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Baseball: Three up, three down from the opening conference series against Purdue

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Analytics would indicate that winning 1-of-3 in a series is better than winning 0-of-3.

@NUCatsBaseball

Northwestern (6-13, 1-2 B1G) opened Big Ten play with a home series loss to Purdue (7-16, 2-1), taking just the second of three games over the weekend despite taking leads in each of the other two.

After NU dropped the series’ first game despite a quality start for Quinn Lavelle, Hank Christie delivered one of his strongest performances of the season, throwing seven scoreless innings to lead NU to a 2-1 victory.

The Wildcats got things going early in game two, scoring their only two runs of the game in the first inning thanks to an RBI double from DH Shawn Goosenberg immediately followed by a single from David Dunn (Goosenberg scored on an error). Those two runs would prove to be all the run support Northwestern needed thanks to a dominant performance from Christie. The junior struck out six and gave up just four hits in his seven innings of work, including 4.2 innings of no-hit ball to start the game.

Nick Paciorek closed out the final two innings for Northwestern and earned his third save of the season, although he didn’t look his best. Paciorek gave up a run in the 9th and nearly blew the save before barely escaping a jam to hand Northwestern their first conference win of the year.

Game 3 is one the Wildcats are going to wish they could have back. Northwestern squandered two leads throughout the game and ultimately fell by a scoreline of 7-9 in the series’ rubber match. Willie Bourbon slugged a three-run homer — his second HR of the year — in the first inning, and Leo Kaplan hit a grand slam — just his fourth hit of the season — in the sixth to put the Wildcats up by a run, but those two bombs wouldn’t be enough for Northwestern to grind it out in the end.

Here are three good and three bad things from the weekend as Northwestern continues to search for its first series win of 2019:

Three up

1. Quinn Lavelle and Hank Christie

The two best starting arms on this Northwestern team both put the Wildcats in a position to win with quality starts — a feat that can’t be taken for granted with a Northwestern team desperate for any kind of pitching consistency. The two starters combined for 13.0 IP and just three earned runs, which should typically translate to two wins in the college game. It was nice to see Northwestern’s top two starters throw well on the same weekend, but unfortunately the hitting and fielding support simply wasn’t strong enough to produce a series win.

2. Power Bats

All seven of Northwestern’s runs on Sunday came on just two swings. Willie Bourbon’s three-run shot in the 1st and Leo Kaplan’s grand slam in the 6th should give two of the more experienced hitters on Northwestern’s roster much needed confidence moving forward after disappointing starts to the season.

3. Shawn Goosenberg

The freshman from California showed his versatility this weekend, featuring as a designated hitter, left fielder and third baseman throughout the series. “Goose” seems to have cemented himself as a regular member of the top half of Spencer Allen’s order, batting cleanup for the final two games of the series. Goosenberg recorded a hit in all three games this weekend and ranks third on the team with a .292 average.

Three Down

1. Fielding

NU gave up two huge unearned runs in the Friday contest, but that was just part of the weekend’s fielding woes. Four errors in a three-game series overall isn’t great, especially when three of them come from the same player. Expect Shawn Goosenberg to get more starts at third base after Charlie Maxwell’s weekend to forget.

2. Lack of a consistent middle reliever

In this weekend’s third game, Northwestern’s crucial lack of a reliable late-game reliever was more apparent than ever. The Wildcats used five arms in between starter Jack Pagliarini and closer Nick Paciorek, and four of those five walked at least one batter and gave up at least one earned run in their respective stint. Underclassmen Parker Hanks and Anthony Alepra have showed promise and relative consistency at many points throughout the season, but both struggled to keep Purdue in check on Sunday in what would’ve been a crucial victory.

3. They still can’t buy a series

San Jose State at home next weekend has gotta be the one, right? Right???