In the week where we celebrate Mr. Irrelevant, the Northwestern Wildcats and Penn State Nittany Lions fought in the battle for the cellar of the Big Ten. Both teams entered the weekend with only one conference win, making this a crucial series for both programs to gain momentum heading into the offseason as the Big Ten schedule winds down.
Friday: Northwestern 7, Penn State 6
Friday’s game was an offensive back-and-forth battle, something that we haven’t seen much all season for the low-scoring Wildcats. Northwestern got on the board first with an RBI base hit from Connor Lind to bring home freshman Charlie Maxwell in the top of the second. Penn State quickly answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the third. The Wildcats inevitably found themselves down 6-2 with some ground to make up in the top of the eighth. Though it hasn’t resulted in many wins, playing from behind is familiar territory for the Wildcats so they stayed poised entering the eighth inning with a 4-run differential.
The Wildcats put up a 2-spot in the eighth inning behind strategic groundouts again from Maxwell and Lind to cut the deficit in half. At 6-4 midway through the eighth, the weather conditions became too severe to play and the game was paused to be continued on Saturday.
Northwestern woke up ready and came out hot Saturday morning. A series of singles from O’Laughlin, Jack Dunn, and Claeys in the top of the ninth cut the lead to one run, at which point Charlie Maxwell continued his heroic game with a bases-clearing bomb to the warning track. The shot put Northwestern up 7-6, which would be the final score of the game.
Saturday: Northwestern 8, Penn State 7
Hours later, the Wildcats and the Nittany Lions went back at it. If Game 1 was a balanced attack for the Wildcat offense, Game 2 was a concentrated explosion. Penn State steadily built a 4-0 lead over the first five innings. Junior infielder Conlin Hughes pestered the Wildcats all day, knocking in a run with an RBI single in the second, going around to score on a Maxwell error (which we can forgive), and later scoring on a wild pitch in the fourth inning.
Northwestern trimmed the deficit in the sixth inning with a Claeys RBI groundout, which Penn State promptly erased with a Parker Hendershot RBI single in the bottom half of the inning. The ‘Cats inched closer in the seventh, as Jack Kelly capitalized on a passed ball to score, but the real damage was done in the eighth. After Lind and Claeys reached base, Maxwell did it again, providing a clutch 3-run home run to pull Northwestern within two and cap off his stellar weekend.
Northwestern then added two more baserunners until leadoff hitter Dunn knocked in pinch hitter Casey O’Laughlin. Two batters later, the ever-reliable Willie Bourbon delivered the biggest blow, a 2-RBI single that gave Northwestern the lead for good.
Sunday: Northwestern 6, Penn State 3
Already having won the series, Northwestern put a ribbon on their weekend Sunday, completing the sweep and extending their win streak to 4 after a 7-game losing streak. Coach Spencer Allen gave a quick hook to freshman starter Jack Pagliarini - the southpaw lasted just two innings as he walked three batters and hit two, leading to 2 Nittany Lion runs. Luckily, fellow freshman Anthony Alepra filled in as well as could be expected, tossing 4 innings and allowing just one run.
On the offensive side, Claeys gave Northwestern an early lead for the first time all weekend, knocking in Dunn with an RBI single in the first. A third inning Alex Erro single regained the lead for the Wildcats, followed shortly after by a Claeys RBI double. The narrow lead become comfortable in the fifth inning as the Nittany Lion pitching and defense unraveled. Junior Ben Dickey and Maxwell both earned bases-loaded walks before Leo Kaplan capped off the day’s scoring with a sacrifice fly to score Lind. Closer Tommy Bordignon earned a six-out hitless save to secure the victory.
The Wildcats now sit at 13-24 overall and 4-14 in the conference. Chicago State will come to Evanston on Tuesday before the ‘Cats travel to Kalamazoo to take on Western Michigan on Wednesday.