The Wildcats have escaped last place.
And for the first time in nine years, Northwestern (13-34, 5-16 B1G) executed a three-game sweep, downing the cellar-dwelling Purdue Boilermakers (7-37, 2-19 B1G) by a combined total of ten runs over the weekend series.
Entering the series on a seven-game losing streak, including a walk-off loss Wednesday to UIC, Northwestern was in desperate need of a win. A series loss to Purdue would have put them in last place in the Big Ten. As it stood, at 10-34 (.227 winning percentage), Spencer Allen's first team of Wildcats was on pace for their worst record this century prior to the sweep.
On Friday, the ‘Cats’ ace Reed Mason allowed a run in the first off of two wild pitches, which was cause for concern. But in the bottom half, an infield single, a bases loaded walk and a two-run seeing-eye ground-ball from center-fielder Jake Schieber gave the ‘Cats a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Mason quickly settled into what would be the best start of his season to date. After allowing a home run to Purdue cleanup hitter Kyle Wood, Mason settled in to finish with seven innings, two earned runs and a season-high seven strikeouts. Leftfielder Joe Hoscheit hit a two-run shot in the second to put the game out of reach, becoming the first ‘Cat to hit more than six home runs since Chris Lashmet hit 10 in 2010. The Wildcats won 7-3, their largest margin of victory since they beat Nebraska 11-3 on April 10.
Saturday’s pitching performance came as a letdown by comparison, though the Wildcats owe that more to their glovemen than starter Joe Schindler, aside from an error from first baseman Zach Jones and a passed ball from catcher Jack Claeys that allowed two unearned runs to score. RBIs from shortstop Jack Dunn and Jones, though, evened the score. Schindler left after allowing an earned run in the fifth, but another two RBIs from Claeys on a single in the sixth put the game out of reach for good. NU took the contest 7-4.
If hope can be salvaged from the wreckage of a season in which Northwestern lost at least five straight games four times, it is in players like Tommy Bordignon. Firing mid-90’s heat and a hard slider, the freshman right-hander shut down the Boilermakers lineup for 5.1 shutout innings to earn his first career victory as a starter on Sunday. After opening his career with 4 ⅓ no-hit innings in relief at Nevada, the Glenview Native could provide the Wildcat rotation with the firepower it lost when the White Sox plucked Brandon Magallones in last year’s draft.
Purdue threatened in the eighth when the Boilermakers loaded the bases with no one out and sent in Daniel Sander to pinch-hit. But reliever Tyler Lass, who grabbed the save on Saturday, coaxed Sander into a hitting sinking fly ball to center. Schieber ran into to nab it, and came up firing, throwing a two-hop laser to the plate to nail the Purdue runner for a double play and neutralize the boiling threat. Lass finished out the inning and fired another perfect frame in the ninth to earn his second save on the season, as Northwestern prevailed 3-0.
The Wildcats host UC-Berkeley next week for a four-game series. It will not be an even match on paper. The Golden Bears are 25-18, and, as NU coach Spencer Allen called them, an "Omaha team," referring to the home of the final rounds of the College World Series.