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Baseball: NU’s Big Ten Tournament chances take a hit following sweep at Michigan

The Wildcats suffered a crucial blow at the hands of one of the best teams in the conference.

@NUCatsBaseball

Northwestern’s recent run of hot hitting ended this weekend. The Wolverines pitching staff fully shut down the Wildcat bats, thus delivering a serious blow to NU’s hopes of reaching postseason play.

Michigan (28-11, 8-3 B1G) held the Wildcats (16-20, 5-7) to just four total runs in a series that was marred by weather delays, ultimately forcing Northwestern to play its 5th doubleheader of the season. NU did not lead at any point in the series.

The series sweep dropped Northwestern to 11th in the Big Ten standings, meaning the Wildcats are now on the outside looking in for the conference tournament in late May, which takes only the top eight teams. NU failed to make the tournament in 2018 after shockingly reaching the championship game the year before.

Here’s a brief series recap:

Saturday: L, 4-1

SP: Quinn Lavelle (3-5, 5.11 ERA)

The weekend series finally got underway late Saturday despite a Friday cancellation and multiple weather delays on Saturday. Lavelle actually pitched pretty darn well, but ultimately couldn’t avoid his fifth loss of the year. He gave up four total runs, but two were unearned and just one run came after the first.

Lavelle struck out six while only giving up four hits, earning his sixth quality start of the season. Despite outhitting the Wolverines 6-5 on the day, Northwestern scored just one run on a sixth inning Shawn Goosenberg single.

Box Score

Sunday (Game 1): L, 3-2

SP: Mike Doherty (2-0, 4.81 ERA)

Despite recording five errors, the Wildcats somehow nearly stole this game. Only one of Michigan’s runs was earned as Mike Doherty and Ryan Bader combined to produce a very impressive effort on the mound for Northwestern. Each pitched four innings and they combined to give up just six hits. Although Doherty hasn’t shown the ability to go the distance as a starter, he’s now put together back-to-back solid outings against tough conference opponents.

Box Score

Sunday (Game 2): L, 10-1

SP: Tommy D’Alise (0-1, 6.27)

The Wildcats burned out in the series’ rubber match. Northwestern simply doesn’t seem to have the pitching depth to get through a doubleheader with the continued absence of typical starter Hank Christie. Freshman Tommy D’Alise struggled as the Sunday starter for the second week in a row, which continues to be a problem for a Northwestern pitching staff in dire need of a reliable arm. Ben Dickey went 2-for-2 with an RBI, but besides that, it was certainly a day to forget for Northwestern at the plate.

Box Score

Series Stats and Notes

  • Northwestern has now won just one of five second games in this season’s doubleheaders, and have let up 10+ runs in all four of those losses.
  • After Shawn Goosenberg’s error at 2B in the first game led to two unearned Michigan runs, Erro replaced Goosenberg in his old spot at second and preceded to make two errors in the second game.
  • Despite hitting two doubles in Game 1, David Dunn finished the weekend 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. The redshirt freshman has seen better days at the plate.
  • Jack Dunn recorded a hit in every game and drew four walks on the weekend to bring his season total to a team high of 23.
  • Northwestern has now lost five straight games overall in addition to five of their last six conference matchups.

Moving Forward

Northwestern’s (somewhat) realistically attainable goals are all still ahead of them. With 13 Big Ten games remaining in the season, the Wildcats control their destiny for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, their only real chance at earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Here’s how the standings look right now:

via d1baseball.com

As you can see, despite sitting toward the bottom at 11th in the Big Ten standings, Northwestern is a mere 2.5 games out of fourth place. One strong weekend series could drastically alter their season outlook.

However, things aren’t going to get easy for the Wildcats moving forward. Ten of their final 13 conference games will come against teams currently ranked in the top half of the Big Ten standings, with the other three arriving next weekend against bottom-feeding Michigan State.