The Spencer Allen era of Northwestern baseball may prove to be very successful, but there’s no denying that the head coach’s first season at the helm has been a significant rough patch. After getting swept in their third straight home conference series by No. 25 Minnesota (25-11, 9-2 B1G), the ‘Cats have fallen to 10-30 overall and are just 2-13 in B1G play. At 20 games under .500, Northwestern is in danger of posting its worst season record since 2009, when they finished 14-35-1 under former coach Paul Stevens.
In the first game of the series on Friday, the ‘Cats put up quite a fight. NU got on the board first with a deep sac fly from Jack Claeys after a triple by Joe Hoscheit to make it 1-0 NU in the bottom of the second. But Minnesota answered immediately, tying the game at one with an RBI single in the top of the third. The Golden Gophers then took a 2-1 lead in the fifth on a prolific shot by Connor Schaefbauer off the back wall of Welsh-Ryan Arena in right field. Toby Hanson tacked two more on for the Gophers in the sixth, lining one over the right field wall to make it 4-1. Tommy Bordignon came in to relieve NU starter Reed Mason (who allowed four earned runs over five innings) later in the inning and gave up two more runs, making it seem like Northwestern was losing its grip on yet another home conference game.
But in the seventh inning, the ‘Cats almost put a dent in that all-too-familiar script. After loading the bases with two outs on Minnesota starter Matt Fiedler, lefty Lucas Gilbreath allowed a line drive single to right by Jack Dunn and a wonky, corkscrew-esque bouncer from Zach Jones that snuck by the shortstop, chased in four runs combined and made it a 6-5 game. Unfortunately for NU, that was as much as their struggling offense could muster. The ‘Cats put two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, but Minnesota closer Jordan Jess got Joe Hoscheit to pop out and earned a save in game one of the weekend series.
The next two games were considerably less exciting. On Saturday, Minnesota grabbed a 6-0 lead before NU scratched an unearned run across in the bottom of the fourth. Once again, NU’s offense went cold and the Golden Gophers, on the strength of three separate three-hit performances and a dominant 12 strikeout effort from starter Dalton Sawyer, cruised to a 10-1 victory.
In the final game of the series, NU starter Joe Schindler held Minnesota hitless for the first three innings, and the game appeared to be settling into a tight pitcher’s duel. But Minnesota leads the Big Ten with a team batting average of .327, and their bats could not be held in check for more than one cycle through the lineup. Austin Athmann hit a two-run jack out to left in the fourth, and the floodgates were opened. The Golden Gophers tacked on one more that inning, three more in the sixth (with another two-run shot from Athmann) and two more in the eighth. Northwestern mustered just five hits off of Minnesota starter Toby Anderson, who threw a shutout, striking out four and walking just one.
Northwestern is still in search of its first conference win at the new and improved Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, but the ‘Cats will have to wait a little while to get another chance to buck that trend. NU will play a road series at Indiana (22-15, 7-4 B1G) next weekend before taking on local rival UIC on the road the following Tuesday. The ‘Cats will be back home on May 6 for the start of a series with Purdue (7-30, 2-13 B1G).