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Baseball: Wildcats move to above .500 for first time this season

The ‘Cats have now won six of their last seven.

After going 2-1 in their inaugural Big Ten series of the year in Bloomington, Northwestern Baseball (15-13, 4-2 B1G) kept it rolling against the Penn State Nittany Lions this past weekend.

The ‘Cats took their first home series of conference play by the same record, playing in three thrilling games and winning two of them in walk-off fashion.

Due to inclement weather – boy, we’ve written that line a lot this season already – NU played a doubleheader on Saturday.

In game one, first-year Sean Sullivan started for Josh Reynolds, but the lefty had an outing that didn’t meet his usual spotless standards; Sullivan gave up four runs (three earned) over five innings, striking out four and walking none. The damage came on three solo shots, although Sullivan entered having allowed just one homer all season.

The Wildcats continued to scratch and claw all game, though, and they finally tied things at three-all when Anthony Calarco launched a two-run homer in the third. After PSU’s Josh Spiegel cracked a long ball to give the Nittany Lions the lead in the fifth, Calarco responded yet again with an RBI double to knot the ballgame in the seventh.

Righty Coby Moe entered in relief of Sullivan, and the junior was fantastic. His breaking ball in wicked form, Moe pitched four innings, giving up no runs on two hits and striking out eight Nittany Lions. Moe’s stellar outing kept the PSU bats at bay before Jay Beshears squeaked a game-winning RBI single through the left side in the ninth. The Wildcats won 5-4.

In game two, NU starter Michael Farinelli proliferated his streak of efficient starts. The graduate transfer from Middlebury went eight innings, permitting two runs on seven hits and striking out one over just 89 pitches. However, Northwestern’s offense mustered just one run in the fourth inning on a Luke Tanner fielder’s choice. Penn State’s Kellan Tulio and Travis Luensmann combined to pitch all nine frames, giving up just five hits and one run (which was unearned) and striking out 13 to bury the ‘Cats 4-1.

Sunday provided the rubber match in the series, and it yet again did not disappoint. First-year Grant Comstock made his second consecutive Sunday appearance; the Indiana native worked around a lengthy first frame to post a career-high five innings in which he let up three hits and two runs and collected three strikeouts.

Although PSU led 2-0 after the first, first-year Alex Calarco notched an RBI single in the fourth to get the ‘Cats on the board; the north-side product had two hits on the afternoon. Then, in the seventh, Anthony Calarco walked with the bases loaded to tie the matchup at 2-2.

Reynolds’ bullpen was excellent, with Jack Sauser hurling a perfect sixth and seventh. Lefty Parker Hanks came on in the eighth, and Reed Smith induced a double play just two batters later to end the inning. In the ninth, Smith gave up three two-out singles, but a stellar throw from left fielder Stephen Hrustich nabbed Brenden Franks trying to score.

Despite a single from Tony Livermore in the bottom of the ninth, the ‘Cats didn’t score in the frame as the game went to extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Jay Beshears made his second consecutive late-game Sunday pitching appearance. Though Beshears surrendered a walk and a double, Pinkston threw out PSU’s Derek Cease at home to nullify the go-ahead run.

The Wildcats built off of the momentum of the prior half-inning. After a Beshears double and a Patrick Herrera walk, Hrustich launched a three-run bomb to left field that ended the game with a flare. NU prevailed 5-2.

On Tuesday, Northwestern hosted Roosevelt University of the NAIA. The Lakers got off to a hot start, with Trevor Heinlein hitting an RBI single off of NU’s Jacob Scharm in the top of the first. Subsequently, though, it was all NU.

Even without star Ethan O’Donnell in the lineup, the ‘Cats sent all nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the frame to take a 4-1 lead; by the fourth, it was already 11-1 Wildcats. While Roosevelt did scratch runs across in the fifth and sixth against Hanks and Sauser, Hrustich hit yet another “walk-off” tank that put NU up 10 in the bottom of the seventh and concluded things at 14-4 due to mercy rule. Beshears paced the Wildcats with three RBIs, while Hrustich, Pinkston, Tommy D’Alise and Alex Calarco posted two of their own.

Now situated tied for third in the conference with Maryland, Northwestern heads to Champaign for a litmus test: the Illinois Fighting Illini, who are second in the Big Ten with a 7-2 conference record. First pitch of the three-game series is set for Friday at 6 p.m. CT.