It was a wonderful weekend on the diamond for Northwestern baseball.
A young Wildcat squad picked up one if its most impressive series wins in recent memory, stealing two of three games against a formidable SEC foe in South Carolina on the road. Playing outdoor baseball for just the second time in 2020, NU took snagged both of its wins in extra innings thanks to some timely hitting and strong relief pitching.
The series got underway Friday afternoon with a 5-2 win for NU in 10 innings. Sophomore righty Mike Doherty got the start for the second straight week and put together a strong showing, giving up just one earned run in 5.0 innings and striking out six Gamecock batters. Through two starts, he has a solid ERA at 1.80 over 10 innings pitched.
With the game tied at 1-1 heading into extra innings, Northwestern exploded for a four-run top of the 10th powered by RBIs from true freshmen Evan Minarovic and Stephen Hrustich. The Wildcat relievers kept NU in the game down the stretch and ultimately shut the door — a nice confidence boost for an inexperienced unit trying to replace the loss of Nick Paciorek to the MLB.
Game two was not so great. Despite scoring a run in the 1st, Gamecock hitters got the better of Northwestern southpaw Quinn Lavelle, putting up eight quick runs over the course of two innings. Lavelle’s struggles on the mound had the game quickly out of reach, and it’s certainly not the performance he wanted to build on after throwing five shutouts innings against Nebraska-Omaha to start the season. The only positives from this one were Shawn Goosenberg and Charlie Maxwell each going yard.
After getting sufficiently pummeled in Game two, the Wildcats bounced back resiliently in the series’ rubber match, erasing a late two-run deficit en route to a second extra winning win on the weekend. The Wildcats struck first in this one, but then fell into a two-run hole after true freshman Tyler Uberstine let up a three-run shot in the 5th inning. Despite giving up the home run, it was an overall solid second career start for Uberstine, who struck out six and gave up just two hits over his five inning stint.
A solo shot from Hrustich, the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, sparked an NU comeback to tie the game, and the Wildcat bullpen once again came up clutch to get the game to extra innings. Some impeccable plate discipline in extras saw Charlie Maxwell draw a bases loaded walk to pull NU ahead for good in the top of the 10th.
Here are a few notable stats that tell the story of Northwestern’s season thus far:
For a team that looked as if it would struggle with power at the plate in 2020, the Wildcats are off to a pretty good start having blasted 5 home runs through six games. Northwestern hit just 21 home runs in all of 2019, and over half of them came from guys that are no longer on the team this season. The five homers have come from five different players, and four of those five are underclassmen.
Unearned runs are a killer for any baseball team, and the Wildcats haven’t helped themselves by averaging more than one per game on the year so far. To be fair, seven of those eight came in a single game against Nebraska-Omaha two weeks ago, but still, Northwestern doesn’t have the pitching consistency and firepower to be giving up free runs at this rate.
It’s been a clean season so far for sophomore catcher Michael Trautwein, who has not allowed a single passed ball through six games. The son of former NU baseball star and Boston Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein is undoubtedly a key part of this young NU core moving forward, and he looks poised to build on a strong freshman campaign in 2019. Trautwein has also caught four runners stealing so far this season.