Northwestern (21-23. 8-10 B1G) took 2-of-3 games from Nebraska (24-18, 13-8) at home over the weekend, launching the Wildcats back into the Big Ten Tournament conversation with two conference series left to play in 2019.
Wildcat pitchers came up huge this weekend and led the team to two wins that now have Northwestern sitting at T-8th in the Big Ten standings. The top eight teams in the conference will qualify for the 2019 Big Ten Tournament in Omaha set to take place from May 22-26.
Sophomore Ryan Bader got the nod for NU on the mound in Game 1 and produced his strongest outing of the year against a Nebraska team that has been struggling in Big Ten play recently, despite sitting over .500 and 6th overall in the conference. Bader threw 7.0 shutout innings while Jack Dunn gave the Wildcats two RBIs on two singles that would give Northwestern the lead for good as they clung on to a 4-2 victory.
Freshman Mike Doherty earned the second game’s start as he has for the past few weeks and delivered a strong bounce back performance after a rough go of it at Michigan State last weekend. The Northwestern bats stole the show in Game 2 though, manufacturing 10 runs on 16 hits thanks to huge performances from Jack Dunn and Alex Erro. Dunn had four hits, Erro added three hits of his own, and both drove him 3 RBIs.
Ben Dickey also launched his second home run of the year en route to a dominant 10-2 victory.
Freshman southpaw Parker Hanks got the start in Game 3 and turned in a decent outing, giving up two earned runs in 4.0 innings pitched. Hanks gave up a leadoff home run against the Huskers and Nebraska stayed in front for the remainder of the game. Jack Dunn’s bat finally cooled down in the the last game of the series, but the senior captain still walked away from the weekend with his first career Big Ten Player of the Week honor — the first Northwestern player to win the award since Joe Hoscheit in April 2017.
In a Big Ten Conference that is packed tightly with mid-tier teams right now, the importance of this series win to Northwestern’s tournament hopes can’t be understated. Here’s how the standings look:
Northwestern has two conference series left against Rutgers and Minnesota, both of whom as you can see are also vying for a spot in the top eight over the course of these final two weeks of the regular season. Given this program finished 13th in the Big Ten last year and now seems to be without its two projected aces heading into the year in Hank Christie and Quinn Lavelle, the Wildcats should feel good about where they’re at. With six conference games left to play, they’re hovering around .500 and still very much control their destiny as they pursue a spot in the Big Ten tournament and a chance to play for an automatic NCAA bid.
Northwestern has shown flashes of promise in 2019, but has also revealed quite a bit of inconsistencies, especially on the mound, throughout the course of the year. What kind of Northwestern team shows up in these last two series will determine the fate of its 2019 season.