For the first time in a season that was once filled with promise, Northwestern has emerged from a weekend of competition empty-handed.
The Wildcats — who hit the road for a set of two-game series in Iowa City against the hosting Hawkeyes and fellow visitors from Maryland — dropped all four of their contests and fell below .500 for the first time since their season-opening loss to Penn State. They were once again plagued by some disastrous pitching performances and, despite leading at some point in every single game, failed to hang on once.
The ‘Cats’ first opponents of the weekend were the Terrapins, who swept them in a two-game series earlier this season. In the first of the teams’ two matchups, the ‘Cats struck first on an RBI double from Ethan O’Donnell in the bottom of the second inning. However, the Terps punched back in the next half inning with an RBI single from U of M’s star slugger Benjamin Cowles, as well as an additional run scored off an error by third baseman Evan Minarovic, who was benched earlier this season after a multi-error outing against Rutgers. Those three runs would be the game’s only scores, as Northwestern’s offense wasted a fine outing by starter Mike Doherty and lulled itself to a 2-1 defeat.
The next day the NU bats woke up. After falling behind 4-2 in the second inning, a solo homer from O’Donnell and an RBI double off the bat of shortstop Shawn Goosenberg knotted the score at four in the fourth before the red-hot first-year O’Donnell struck again in the fifth with a two-run single to left that gave the Wildcats a 6-4 advantage.
Unfortunately that lead would not hold, as Northwestern starter Tyler Uberstine quickly surrendered the lead in the bottom of the inning, allowing three runs to score on a pair of RBI singles. Uberstine was pulled during said inning with a final stat line of 4.2 innings pitched, nine hits allowed, seven runs forfeited (six earned), four walks issued and only two strikeouts. Jack Sauser, who relieved Uberstine in the fifth, gave up another two runs in the seventh that extended Maryland’s lead to 9-6, and despite a ninth inning rally that saw Vincent Bianchina drive in a run, the ‘Cats comeback came up short. The Terps prevailed by a score of 9-7.
On Sunday evening, Northwestern turned the page to its two-game set against Iowa with disastrous results. Starter Quinn Lavelle had his worst outing of the year, allowing a whopping nine earned runs over 4.1 innings pitched, and relievers Jack Pagliarini and Kellen Pate each allowed another three earned runs. While even a strong offensive showing likely wouldn’t have saved the ‘Cats from such dismal pitching, the bats only knocked in four, and the Hawkeyes romped their way to a 15-4 blowout.
Monday afternoon’s weekend finale ended up being NU’s best chance at a win. Heading into the final two frames of the game, the Wildcats boasted an 8-5 lead on the back of a four-run rally in the top of the seventh inning, and even though the Hawkeyes posted a three-run outing in the eighth to leave the game tied heading into the last inning of play, a clutch RBI single from Goosenberg set reliever Reed Smith up with a chance to close out his own win in the bottom of the ninth.
After forcing a groundout that left Iowa two outs away from defeat, Smith proceeded to allow a double and pair of singles consecutively that tied things up and put the winning run in scoring position. The next batter, pinch hitter Brett McCleary, crushed a walk-off three run shot to right, sending the ‘Cats home from a four-game weekend empty handed.
The Wildcats have now fallen in 11 of their last 14 contests, including eight of their last nine. Over that stretch, they’ve fallen from fourth in the Big Ten to ninth. They’ll welcome the Michigan Wolverines — whom they split a two-game set with amidst their cold streak — to Evanston for another pair of games before hosting another two contests against Illinois — the last team they beat in a series — this upcoming weekend.