Northwestern (9-38, 3-18 B1G) won a thriller at Wrigley Field against Notre Dame (29-20, 14-13 ACC) on a walk-off fielding error of the bat of Stephen Hrustich. The ‘Cats won by a score of 8-7, and secured a feel-good moment as the end of the season approaches.
Hrustich and Kevin Ferrer stood out offensively. Hrustich had a 2-for-4 day with two RBIs, and Ferrer went 4-for-6, driving in a whopping four runs.
Matt McClure took the hill for the ‘Cats in this one coming off an abbreviated start against Milwaukee. He went four innings, giving up five runs on six hits. First-year starter David Lally Jr. started for Notre Dame.
McClure started out strong in the first, inducing a lineout from TJ Williams and striking out the Irish’s team batting average leader, Zach Prajzner.
The ‘Cats got off to a hot start on offense in the bottom half, but failed to capitalize. Tony Livermore led off with a walk, and outfielder Kevin Ferrer followed that up with a base knock that sent Livermore to third. Stephen Hrustich then walked to load the bases. Things looked promising, but Alex Calarco struck out, and Bennett Markinson then grounded into a double play, stranding all three base runners.
Brooks Coetzee hit a 393-foot, two-run bomb in the top of the second, and the Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead. McClure buckled down after that, though, and retired the next three batters in order.
Griffin Arnone led off the second inning for NU and was robbed of a hit on a line drive to center as Williams came charging in to make the diving grab. The ‘Cats rallied a little bit, putting two runners on base on an error and a walk, but Livermore flew out to right center to end the inning.
Notre Dame played small ball in the third. McClure hit the leadoff man with a pitch, and then T.J. Williams bunted for a single. Prajzner grounded out to the right side to move the runners over, and the ‘Cats found themselves in a jam with one out. The Irish capitalized, scoring both runners, but Northwestern center fielder Griffin Arnone threw out a runner at third to end the inning and keep the score at 4-0.
Sammy Cooper replaced Lally Jr. in the bottom of the third. Hrustich got on base with a one-out bloop single over the shortstop’s head and advanced to second on a failed pickoff attempt from Cooper. Ultimately, Markinson was retired to end the inning and neutralize another Northwestern threat. The ‘Cats were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position through three.
McClure induced two fly outs to start the fourth, but Casey Kmet singled and stole second to keep the inning alive. Estevan Moreno followed that up with a perfectly placed dunker that gave Notre Dame a 5-0 lead. McClure ended the inning at 71 pitches thrown.
The ‘Cats made it a ballgame in the bottom half. Foard connected for a ground-rule double that hopped into the seats along the left field foul line. He advanced to third on a wild pitch from Cooper, and then scored on a Minarovic single. Following a walk to Livermore, Ferrer came up with the bases loaded and hit a sharp ground ball down the right field line for a double that scored two. The score was now 5-3, and the Irish called upon Matt Bedford to replace Cooper, still with just one out in the inning.
The ‘Cats tied the game on a Hrustich double that barely got over the head of Notre Dame’s left fielder. That would be the extent of the damage as the inning came to a close on a diving grab from Brady Gumpf, but NU had already hung a crooked number on the board.
Jack Dyke replaced McClure in the fifth, and managed to dispose of the heart of Notre Dame’s lineup (Prajzner, Putz and Martinez) in order. The ‘Cats would fail to make any noise in the bottom half as well, and were also retired in order.
Dyke was effective again in the top of the sixth, inducing groundouts from Coetzee, Gumpf and Danny Neri. Livermore and Ferrer each singled to start the bottom half, but Hrustich struck out swinging for the first out and Bedford finagled his way out of the inning. The ‘Cats stranded their ninth baserunner in six innings.
Dyke came out for a third inning in the seventh. He retired the first two batters, but Williams crushed a two-out triple to give UND life, and Dyke was replaced in favor of David Utagawa. Prajzner promptly gave the Irish a lead on another triple, and Putz followed with an RBI single to make it 7-5.
Ryan Lynch entered the game in the bottom of the seventh for Notre Dame and struck out the side, fist pumping on his way to the dugout. In the eighth, Utagawa settled down and retired Coetzee, Gumpf and Neri in order.
The ‘Cats hadn’t scored since the five run explosion back in the fifth, but Ferrer tied the game back up at seven in the eighth, crushing a two-run homer to left. The score stayed tied headed into the ninth.
Utagawa struck out the side in an impressive top half. He got Kmet swinging, and then fooled Kmet, who struck out looking. Williams accidentally tossed his bat towards the Northwestern dugout on strike three to end the inning.
Arnone, the first batter for the ‘Cats, reached on a wild pitch on strike three. Foard was then hit by a pitch and Northwestern had runners on first and second with no outs. McElfatrick executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners over.
Pinch-hitter Luke Tanner was hit by another pitch to load the bases, and Livermore stepped up to the plate with a chance to walk it off. Notre Dame pitcher Will Mercer struck him out setting up a matchup with NU’s hottest hitter in Ferrer. He grounded out to short, extending the game to extra innings.
In the 10th, Utagawa continued to look good, his only blemish an inconsequential single off the bat of Martinez. Mercer struck out three Wildcat batters in the bottom half, sandwiched around a single from Markinson.
Gumpf led off the top of the 11th with a sharp single up the middle, and Neri bunted to advance him to second with one out. Notre Dame tabbed DM Jefferson to pinch hit, and Jim Foster countered with righty Ben Grable, who was able to get out of the inning.
Foard struck out to start the 11th, but McElfatrick then walked for the second time and advanced to second on a groundout. Following a Livermore HBP, Ferrer stepped to the plate. However, after a wild pitch allowed Northwestern’s runners to advance to second and third, Notre Dame intentionally walked him.
With a chance to be the hero, Hrustich worked a 3-2 count. He hit a sharp grounder to third base that Moreno couldn't handle, and the ‘Cats’ bench emptied onto the field with the 8-7 win in hand.
Northwestern will play next this weekend against Iowa (37-12, 13-7 B1G) at home, its final series of the season.