Northwestern (24-27, 11-13 B1G) failed to qualify for postseason play in agonizing fashion this weekend, losing two of three games against Minnesota (26-25, 15-9) — both by just a single run.
After Northwestern pulled off crucial back-to-back series wins against Nebraska and Rutgers the past two weekends, they had put themselves in a strong position to finish top eight in the conference and qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.
But Maryland took care of Iowa, and Ohio State swept struggling Purdue, leaving Northwestern a game behind the trio of the Terrapins, Hawkeyes, and Buckeyes for the last three spots. All of a sudden, despite a dominant Game 2 performance, the ‘Cats were unable to qualify for what would have been their second tournament appearance in three years.
Game 1: L, 5-4
All five of Minnesota’s runs came in the first inning, and the Wildcats’ comeback effort fell just short as four unanswered runs weren’t enough to lift Northwestern to what would have been a crucial victory in the opening game of the series. Sophomore Casey O’Laughlin continued his strong ending to the 2019 season by leading the comeback effort with two RBIs. O’Laughlin had a multi-hit game in each of Northwestern’s final four conference series.
Ryan Bader, who emerged as a go-to opening game starter after top pitchers Quinn Lavelle and Hank Christie were injured, was nearly perfect after a rough first inning as he put together five shutout innings to complete his start. Bader finished the season with a 5.09 ERA.
Game 2: W, 10-3
This game was all NU from start to finish. Freshman starter Mike Doherty was dominant on the mound for yet another weekend (6.2 innings/2 earned runs) and a lead-off triple from Jack Dunn set the tone early for the Northwestern offense. Casey O’Laughlin was the most effective player at the plate for the Wildcats yet again as he drove in four RBIs and went 2-for-2 at the plate. His three-RBI triple in the 5th was the catalyst in Northwestern’s seven-run inning, putting the game well out of reach.
Game 3: L, 6-5
With Friday’s win, Northwestern set itself up for a win-or-go home game in the series rubber match. The Wildcats jumped out to two separate leads in the game’s first three innings, but a two-run Minnesota home run in the fourth inning put the Gophers up one.
After a three hour rain delay in the fourth inning, hard-throwing righty Nick Paciorek took over on the mound for Northwestern but struggled as he gave up two runs in just 2.1 innings. Despite Paciorek’s struggles, the Wildcat bats kept the Minnesota lead within reach with clutch hitting in the 5th and 6th innings.
At the end of the day, the Northwestern offense simply couldn’t do enough at the plate as they failed to score in the game’s final three innings despite being backed by strong pitching and fielding down the stretch.
To see seniors Jack Dunn, Willie Bourbon, Ben Dickey, and Danny Katz, who have meant so much to this program over their time in Evanston, end their Northwestern careers at home in such a heartbreaking fashion is truly devastating. The Wildcats were unthinkably close to keeping their season alive for at least one more weekend, but instead they will have to regroup and rebuild once more.