It appears that as the temperatures rise in Evanston, the Northwestern Wildcats are, on the contrary, cooling down.
After winning three consecutive series and starting the season 9-5, the ‘Cats have lost five of their last seven, including two of three to Rutgers during their first home series of the season this weekend. The skid has dropped NU to a 11-10 record and from third to seventh in the Big Ten standings.
A glimmer of hope amidst the dark stretch has been the dominant play of shortstop Shawn Goosenberg. He recorded hits in eight of his 15 at-bats against the Scarlet Knights, including four home runs. In total, Goosenberg drove in six of Northwestern’s 15 runs, boosted his batting average to .356 and joined Maryland’s Benjamin Cowles atop the Big Ten in home runs with 10 on the season.
Goosenberg’s impact was most significant in the game’s first series, the only weekend win for the hosting Wildcats and their longest contest of the season thus far. Mike Doherty took the mound to start for NU, and had his best outing of the season to this point. The Sandwich, Mass. native allowed only one run and five hits over seven innings, while striking out six. While Doherty dealt, Northwestern’s offense produced four runs on the back of solo shots from Goosenberg, Mike Trautwein and Stephen Hrustich, as well as an RBI double from Leo Kaplan.
Unfortunately, as it has at various points throughout the season, the Northwestern bullpen failed to secure the win. After an error extended the top of the eighth inning, reliever Reed Smith gave up a two-run homer to RU’s Ryan Lasko that brought the Scarlet Knights within a run of the ‘Cats. Smith escaped without allowing further damage, but in the top of the ninth, Rutgers’ last hitter in their lineup — shortstop Kevin Walsh — launched a two-run blast off of closer Sam Lawrence to give his team a 5-4 lead.
With the Wildcats down to their final out, first baseman Anthony Calarco became the first hero of the night, hitting a solo HR to tie the game at five and force extra innings. After both teams went scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings, Goosenberg crushed Rutgers’ first pitch of the 12th to give NU a 6-5 victory.
Goosenberg would start his next day similarly, hitting a two-run HR in his first at-bat of Saturday’s contest to give Northwestern a 2-1 lead in the first inning after the Scarlet Knights scored a run on a double. Following another RBI double from Rutgers off of NU starter Tyler Uberstine, Kaplan hit a two-run shot of his own to make it a 4-2 ballgame.
While Uberstine would wind up with a serviceable line of five innings pitched, three earned runs, eight hits allowed and eight strikeouts, defensive woes would doom the ‘Cats. The Scarlet Knights tacked on three unearned runs, and Coby Moe allowed two earned, giving Rutgers a total of eight runs on the day. The Wildcats’ offense was nearly nonexistent after Kaplan’s second-inning smash, generating no further runs and giving the game a final score of 8-4 in Rutgers’ favor.
In particular, the poor defensive play of third baseman Evan Minarovic, who had three errors, brought in two unearned runs and landed him on the bench midway through the seventh inning. Minarovic would stay benched for the rest of the series, as NU coach Spencer Allen opted to start first-year Tony Livermore for the series-closing matinee after he replaced Minarovic during Saturday’s game.
In said Sunday showdown, Rutgers’ Lasko brought the power early. He hit two home runs in the game’s first four innings, giving the Scarlet Knights a 3-0 lead. RU would later add two runs on an RBI single and sac fly in the fifth and eighth innings, respectively. The Wildcats’ bats were dormant for much of the game, with Rutgers leading 5-0 midway through the eighth.
A solo moonshot of a homer off the bat of Trautwein in the bottom of the eighth tightened RU’s lead to four, but, as they approached their final three outs of the game, Northwestern still faced an uphill battle due to their ineffective hitting. That said, the ‘Cats snapped out of their offensive malaise in the bottom of the ninth, scoring two runs on an RBI single and a wild pitch before Goosenberg took a trip to the plate with a man on base and his team down two.
You can probably guess what happened next. The junior from Encino, Calif. drove a 2-2 pitch over the left-center wall, tying the ballgame in epic fashion, and igniting his dugout and the crowd at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.
The comeback would prove futile, though, as Rutgers would score on a solo homer in the top of the 10th and the Wildcats would fail to respond.
Northwestern will look to rebound against Indiana, one of the Big Ten’s perennial contenders, at home next weekend.