As Connor Lind's walk-off home run soared high into the grey early Spring sky on Sunday, an elbow pad thrown high from the dugout joined it in flight. Everybody in the Wildcat dugout was losing their minds, and met Lind at the end of his trip around the bases in a jubilant, nearly violent mob at home plate. If it seemed like the 'Cats hadn't really been there before, it's because, in many ways, they hadn't.
Lind's home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, which broke a 2-2 tie, gave NU (8-18, 0-3 B1G) its second win in a three-game weekend home set over Air Force (12-15, 2-10 MWC), on April 2. For comparison, Northwestern did not win a home series last year until the second weekend of May, when it swept a lowly Purdue squad at home. That was one of just two series wins all season. NU also only won two in 2015. While the it won't count towards the 'Cats' conference record, it could serve as an early turning point in the Spencer Allen Era, which has seen NU struggle to turn much of a corner since the young coach's hiring.
However, after the first game of the series on Saturday, the 'Cats had quite an uphill battle ahead of them. NU struck first with an RBI groundout and a sac fly in the fourth, but visiting Air Force responded with 10 unanswered runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to cruise to an 11-3 win.
Weather concerns on Friday forced the teams to play two on Saturday, but the second game of the doubleheader seemed to be headed down the same path as the first early on. Air Force led 6-0 after its first three at bats. But little by little, NU chipped away. The 'Cats posted a three-spot in the third and a two-spot in the fourth to cut the lead to 6-5. Sophomore infielder Jack Dunn's fingerprints were all over NU's rally, chipping in two RBIs on singles in both innings, and coming around to score and make it 6-5 on a double by senior outfielder Matt Hopfner.
Hopfner tied the game up with an RBI single in the sixth, and Schieber gave NU its first lead of the game in the seventh with a single of his own. NU's bullpen duo of Sam Lawrence and Pete Hofman held the Falcons scoreless over the final six and a third innings, allowing the 'Cats to mount their comeback and tie the series at a game apiece.
On Sunday, Air Force grabbed 1-0 and 2-1 leads, only to see the 'Cats respond with a squeeze bunt in the sixth and a run off an error in the eighth to tie the game in both instances. It was a pitching duel from start to finish, with NU starter Matt Gannon going five and allowing just one run, and Josh Levy relieving him for six innings of his own and allowing just one, also. Though the two combined to allow ten hits, they were able to keep the Falcons at bay long enough to allow Lind to send all in purple home happy with a walk-off blast in the 11th.
NU won't have much time to rest on its laurels; it will face UIC at Curtis Granderson Field in Chicago on Tuesday, then Illinois State at home on Wednesday, followed by a home series against Iowa this upcoming weekend.