After winning three consecutive series for the first time since 2017, Northwestern hit a snag on a road trip to College Park, losing both of their two games against Maryland and dropping one of two contests versus Michigan.
The Wildcats, who had been the Big Ten’s most dominant offensive power this season prior to this weekend, failed to put up more than five runs in any of the weekend’s games. Despite the fact that they led in every game, defensive issues and bullpen troubles doomed the ‘Cats in all but one of their contests, dropping their overall record to 10-8 and sliding them down from fourth to sixth in the Big Ten standings.
NU’s first two games of the weekend were against the hosting Terrapins, who entered with a 6-9 record. In the first match, starting pitcher Mike Doherty tossed arguably his best game of the season, allowing a lone earned run through seven innings pitched. Northwestern’s bats provided Doherty with early support, scoring three runs in the first two innings, including one off a solo home run from shortstop Shawn Goosenberg, last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats couldn’t continue their offensive tear, leaving a total of 11 runners on base. The lack of run production proved costly, as in Doherty’s last inning of work Maryland scored two runs on an error by left fielder Stephen Hrustich, knotting the score at three. In the eighth, reliever Reed Smith allowed the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly, with the Terrapins taking the game 4-3.
The Wildcats got off to a hot start again in the second match, with Mike Trautwein, who failed to continue his five-game home run streak in the first game, going deep for a two-run shot in the first inning. The Terrapins struck back in the third and fourth, taking a 3-2 lead, before a pair of solo homers from Leo Kaplan and Vincent Bianchina put the ‘Cats in the lead once more in the sixth inning.
The wheels fell off for NU again in the bottom of the sixth, when a pair of singles off of reliever Coby Moe drove in three runs for Maryland, giving them a 6-4 advantage. Another two-run single off of Moe in the eighth would extend the Terps’ lead, while NU failed to score again, leaving the game with a final score of 8-4.
While the ‘Cats’ opponent would change midway through Saturday, their fortunes would not. In their first game of the weekend against Michigan at a conference-best 11-4, the Wildcats got another solid outing out of their starter, as Tyler Uberstine allowed only four hits and one run in five innings pitched. After Uberstine’s exit, NU took a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh on the back of two solo homers from Ethan O’Donnell and Anthony Calarco.
However, the bullpen once again failed to hold the lead. Reliever Garrett Boeckle, who struggled in his lone appearance in last week’s series against Illinois, failed to find his groove, allowing the game-tying run on a double in the bottom of the sixth before letting two baserunners aboard and getting pulled in the seventh. Boeckle’s replacement, Jack Sauser, retired two batters in a row and looked close to escaping the jam he inherited, but then gave up a three-run blast to Michigan’s Griffin Mazur, giving the Wolverines a 5-2 lead that they would carry to the end of the game.
At the very least the bullpen managed to end the weekend on a bright note. After starter Quinn Lavelle provided a quality start — allowing one run over six innings — and the offense created a lead to hold with four runs, the arms of Ben Grable, Reed Smith and Sam Lawrence finished the job, allowing no runs and a combined five baserunners over three total innings of relief to secure a 4-1 win over the Wolverines.
The ‘Cats will look to build upon their weekend-closing victory on Friday, when they welcome Rutgers to Evanston for a three-game series, their first at home since 2019.