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Baseball: ‘Cats drop final series of the season to OSU but end on a high note

NU went out with a bang.

Northwestern Athletics

What was the most unusual of academic years for Northwestern Athletics has at long last reached its end.

NU’s final team playing in the 2020-2021 school year — its baseball squad — dropped two of three to Ohio State to close its season, but picked up a win in the season finale in Columbus on Sunday to send the year off on a sweet note.

The anchor of the Wildcats’ offense all season long — and now a First Team All-Big Ten shortstop — Shawn Goosenberg was once again effective during the weekend road trip, hitting 5-for-12 while scoring five times. Additionally, the team’s first-year spark-plug, right fielder Ethan O’Donnell, hit 4-for-11 against the Buckeyes. All in all, both teams scored a total of 19 runs on the weekend, but it was Ohio State that walked away with the series win.

The weekend opener accounted for the bulk of said runs for both teams. The game was a 23-run affair that, somehow, according to Northwestern’s box score of the game, only took three hours and 32 minutes to play out. In the first inning, the visiting Wildcats jumped out to a 5-0 advantage, with a 3-run homer by David Dunn as the main catalyst toward the lead. NU’s starter on the mound, Mike Doherty, tossed a scoreless first two innings before being pulled after allowing a baserunner in the third. His departure came, presumably, as the result of injury, as he had not allowed a run and thrown a season-low 35 pitches before being pulled.

Unfortunately, Doherty would wind up with an earned run on his stat line, as reliever Reed Smith allowed the inherited runner and three others to score in the bottom of the third, thinning the Northwestern lead to 5-4. While the Wildcats punched back with another two runs in the top of the fourth to make it a 7-4 ballgame, Smith continued to get shelled, allowing another three-run shot to the Buckeyes’ Zach Dezenzo that knotted the score at seven before being relieved by Kellen Pate, who pitched the remainder of the game for NU.

Across the fifth and seventh innings, Pate allowed an additional six Buckeyes to score, giving OSU a 13-7 advantage heading into the eighth inning. While Northwestern put a dent in the Buckeyes’ lead by tacking on three late-game runs, they could not mount a rally with their backs against the wall in the top of the ninth, and fell 13-10.

The next day’s contest was a substantially lower-scoring affair. OSU’s starter Garrett Burhenn tossed a gem of a game, completing six innings of work while allowing a lone Northwestern run on an RBI double from O’Donnell in the fourth and striking out 11 of the 25 batters he faced. NU’s starter Hank Christie did not fare quite as well, allowing four earned runs on seven hits over six innings pitched. Christie, a graduate-student who utilized an extra year of eligibility granted to him due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was given a warm send-off to end his career as a Wildcat after the performance.

Neither team’s bullpen allowed a run in the latter third of the game, and the Buckeyes came away with a 4-1 victory.

The season finale got off to a rollicking start with a Goosenberg homer, his 14th and final of the season, that gave the ‘Cats a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first. After OSU struck back with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning, Northwestern posted two runs in each of the following two innings to grab a 5-1 lead a third of the way into the game.

Neither team posted a run in the fourth or fifth innings, and the Wildcats added another two runs in the sixth, first when Evan Minarovic grounded into a fielder’s choice that brought in a run, and later when Goosenberg reached after a dropped third strike led to a fielding error by OSU first baseman Conner Pohl, which allowed Leo Kaplan to score. NU reliever Jack Pagliarini allowed a Buckeye run in the seventh, but that was as much of a comeback as the hosts would put up. The Wildcats added one final run on a Mike Trautwein single in the top of the ninth for good measure, and ended their season with an 8-2 victory.

After starting 9-5, Northwestern went 6-16 in its final 22 games to yield a season record of 15-21, good for 10th place in the year-end Big Ten standings. Despite playing fewer games than any other team in the conference, the ‘Cats led the Big Ten with 66 home runs. The Wildcats’ struggles to keep opponents off the board were also apparent in their cumulative statistics, as they had the fourth-highest team ERA in the conference and a fielding percentage of .960 that was the Big Ten’s worst.

In terms of individual performances, Goosenberg was the team’s clear-cut MVP. He finished second in the conference with a batting average of .362, tied for second with 14 home runs and atop the leaderboard with a slugging percentage of .717 and an OPS of 1.143. First baseman Anthony Calarco joined him on the All-Big Ten First Team, Trautwein garnered Second Team honors and O’Donnell was selected to the conference’s All-Freshman Team.