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Baseball: Wildcats struggle in Texas but rebound at home

Every victory is worth celebrating — especially a home opener.

Northwestern baseball has not been a stranger to disappointment, but as this past week showed, every game is a new opportunity to seize.

After a heartbreaking stretch in Texas, the Wildcats (2-17) won their second game of the season at home in a dominant display of hitting.

After 13 well-fought innings, Northwestern couldn’t come out on top this past Friday.

The University of Texas at Arlington jumped to an early two-run lead in the first inning, but Northwestern retaliated in the third inning with a double from Owen McElfatrick that brought two home. Behind again by two, Alex Roessner doubled to make it a one-run ballgame at 4-3.

The ‘Cats gained their first advantage of the day in the seventh inning. Alex Calarco, Cooper Foard and Roessner each collected hits to send runners home. The two-run lead, however, was short-lived. In the bottom of the inning, UTA tacked on another. Once again, the Wildcats were up by two thanks to a fielding error at the top of the eighth inning, but the Mavericks equalized the score their next time at the plate.

Keeping up with patterns, Northwestern retook a lead off a Foard single, but UTA responded to keep it even at 8-8 and send the game into extra innings.

The ‘Cats never found themselves in scoring position over the next four innings. In the bottom of the 13th inning, junior Luke Benneche surrendered a walk that proved to be the difference. After moving into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt, the Mavericks were able to walk off the game on a double.

Despite dropping a heartbreaker, it was a strong outing for a struggling squad. Both teams collected 14 hits, and Northwestern reached a season-high for extra-base hits with six doubles, including two from McElfatrick. Offensively, Calarco continued to lead the ‘Cats with three hits. Matt McClure had the start, letting up three runs and striking out four in 3.2 innings. Coby Moe, Ben Grable and Benneche were relatively solid in relief, allowing one run each and pitching at least two innings.

The final game against UTA and the first of two on Saturday was another instance of the offense coming alive.

First-year Drew Dickinson was on the bump, and while UTA took a five-run lead in the first inning, they were all unearned. The first Maverick singled off the righty, but Dickinson got the following two out. The next batter would have made the third out, but a fielding error allowed the man on first to score and the batter to reach. The following two batters were walked to load the bases, followed by an unfortunate grand slam.

After UTA tacked on another two, NU finally answered to cut the lead to 7-3. McElfatrick, Roessner and Liolios were walked to load the bases. Two wild pitches and another walk brought in the three Wildcats.

Trailing by six in the fifth inning, the bats were able to cut the lead to two. After Bennett Markinson and Vincent Bianchina singled, and Tony Livermore walked to load the bases, Arnone doubled to score all three. Arnone came home himself off an RBI from Calarco to make it 9-7.

That was the closest the game got, as the Mavericks scored three more while the Wildcats added just one for a 12-8 loss. While UTA was always ahead of NU, the ‘Cats’ bats collected nine hits against the Mavericks’ 10.

In the nightcap, Northwestern’s offense struggled to bring in runs.

Houston scored a run in the third inning, four in the fifth inning and five in the seventh inning for 10 runs total. The ‘Cats had seven hits but only managed to bring two runners home in the bottom of the seventh.

Both Wildcat runs came off a single from Markinson. Arnone also had a strong showing at the plate, going two-for-four — one of which was a double. Michael Farinelli was on the mound; he started out solid but wavered in the fourth inning. Farinelli hit the first batter, who then advanced on yet another error. That runner eventually came home, followed by a two-run home run and another batter who was reeled in after being walked.

This three-game set has emphasized two valiant struggles for Jim Foster’s team: errors and timely hitting. The ‘Cats had seven errors this past weekend, and these miscues have plagued them since the start of the season. While Northwestern was able to find hits — 14, nine and seven — and match UTA and Houston well in this category, it failed to bring runners home. On Friday, the Wildcats were 4-for-20 with batters in scoring position; across the doubleheader on Saturday, they were 4-for-21.

However, on Tuesday, Northwestern found a welcome change of pace.

In the home opener against Northern Illinois, Northwestern got ahead early 8-0. Calarco brought in the first run off a single, and in the second inning, homers from Luke Tanner and Roessner, and RBIs from McElfatrick, Calarco, Liolios and Markinson tacked on another seven.

NIU cut the lead to one over the next two innings, but NU managed to extend its advantage to 10-7 in the bottom of the fourth with Tanner and Livermore driving in runs.

The Huskies brought in a run in each of the next four innings to take a one-run lead, but a five-run eighth inning for the ‘Cats sealed the win. In the 15-11 victory, the Wildcats had 18 hits. Tanner went 4-for-5 with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs, and Calarco went 3-for-4 with a double, walk and two RBIs. There were two Wildcat errors in the game, but this was a much-needed win for the team.

This weekend, Northwestern heads to Indiana for a three-game series against Purdue to open up Big Ten play. The ‘Cats hope to create a winning streak, as they then take the diamond against Notre Dame on Tuesday and return back home to Evanston for a series with Illinois.