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Baseball: Wildcats take series at Rutgers, set themselves up for chance at Big Ten Tournament

Northwestern spring sports are looking up.

@NUCatsBaseball

Northwestern (23-24, 10-11 B1G) picked up its biggest series win of the season over the weekend at Rutgers (20-28, 9-11), moving into the 7th place slot in the Big Ten standings with one regular-season conference series left to play. The top eight teams in the Big Ten will qualify for the postseason tournament in Omaha to be played two weeks from now.

Here’s how the weekend went down:

Game 1: W, 5-3

Northwestern squeaked out a win in the series opener thanks to a huge comeback effort that saw the Wildcats put up five runs in the 7th inning after trailing Rutgers for the majority of the game. Shawn Goosenberg’s two-RBI double capped off the crucial Northwestern rally, and fireballing closer Nick Paciorek combined with Sam Lawrence to take the Wildcats home.

Game 2: W, 4-0

Freshman Mike Doherty continued his recent success on the mound with an absolutely dominant shutout performance on Saturday. The freshman tossed 8.0 scoreless innings while allowing just four hits. Doherty now boasts a 3.86 ERA, the best among Northwestern starters and second on the team to the aforementioned Paciorek.

Game 3: L, 5-4

Weather forced Northwestern into another doubleheader on Saturday — the team’s 8th of the season — and the Wildcats fell just short of mustering another comeback after falling behind early on. Freshman southpaw Parker Hanks struggled early but the Northwestern bullpen did enough to keep the Wildcats in the game until the 9th thanks to strong outings from Jack Pagliarini and Anthony Alepra.

Looking Forward

With the series win, Northwestern now squarely controls its own destiny with regards to postseason play. If the Wildcats can take care of business against Minnesota at home this weekend, they’ll play for a shot at an automatic NCAA Tournament slot and a chance to recreate their remarkable run to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2017. Here’s how the standings look with one regular season series left to play:

via d1baseball.com

Two wins this weekend would almost certainly guarantee the Wildcats a spot in the top eight, but Spencer Allen and his team will still be rooting for some extra help/support in the form of Rutgers, Ohio State and Maryland dropping games in their respective series’.

If Northwestern finishes tied with Rutgers or Ohio State, NU will advance as they hold the series tiebreaker over both teams. However, if the Wildcats finished tied with Maryland, the Terps will have the advantage given that they took two of three at NU earlier in the season. Rutgers plays at second-place Indiana next weekend, so it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which they pass Northwestern if the Wildcats win the series against Minnesota, or even just a single game.

The resilience of this team should not be understated. The pitching staff has seen its top two projected arms entering the season deal with injuries, but young arms like Ryan Bader and Mike Doherty have stepped up when NU needed them most and delivered clutch quality starts.

Freshman Shawn Goosenberg has delivered clutch hit after clutch hit as the Wildcats’ solidified three-hole hitter, and he now leads the team with 13 doubles while also being tied for a team-high 15 RBIs in conference play. Jack Dunn and Alex Erro are still leading the way offensively, with the partners on the left side of the infield each sporting averages above .330.

Although it would’ve been nice for Northwestern to get the sweep this weekend, especially after they took the first two games of the series, Spencer Allen’s team did exactly what they needed to. Now, with a Tuesday game against Notre Dame as a tune-up before they take on the Golden Gophers, NU needs to stay locked in.

After a rough middle-of-the-season stretch looked like it was going to keep the Wildcats out of the conference tournament for the second consecutive season, Northwestern pulled off back-to-back series wins against teams ranked above them in the standings to pull themselves back into the top eight for now. But it’s the upcoming showdown with Minnesota that will be truly telling as to what this year’s squad is made of.