Baseball: Wildcats rout Chicago State in first game at renovated home stadium


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Jack Claeys hits a grand slam against Chicago State. The sophomore catcher sparked a 6-run third inning for the Wildcats, helping them take a lead they would not relinquish.

Will Ragatz, Reporter


Jack Claeys christened Rocky and Berenice Miller Park in grand fashion Wednesday afternoon.

With Northwestern trailing Chicago State 3-1 in the bottom of the third inning, Claeys stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. In one swing of the bat, the sophomore catcher made history with the first home run in the new park and gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.

“(With the bases loaded), what you’re trying to do is just slow the game down, put a good swing on the ball, find some barrel, and hit it hard somewhere,” Claeys said. “Thankfully, I got (a pitch that was) up a little bit and was able to drive it to left-center. I think the wind helped it a little bit today, but it was still a great feeling.”

Claeys’ long grand slam was the highlight of a six-run third inning that catapulted the Cats (7-18, 1-2 Big Ten) to an 11-5 win over the Cougars (6-17, 0-3 WAC) in their home opener.

It was also Claeys’ first collegiate homer.

“Honestly, it’s so surreal,” Claeys said. “When I was recruited, they were talking about the stadium and we’d been waiting for so long, and to come out and beat a good team like Chicago State, and to hit the first home run (here), it’s a great honor, especially to put us ahead in the game and get momentum going back our way.”

In NU’s decisive third inning, Claeys wasn’t the only Cat to record his first career home run. Just two batters after Claeys’ grand slam, freshman infielder Willie Bourbon slugged a solo shot to left field. Bourbon finished 4-for-4 at the plate and just a triple shy of the cycle.

“Once you really get in a rhythm … especially after a big hit like that, you’re feeling good about yourself, you get in the box and you’re a little bit more confident,” Bourbon said.

On the other side of the ball, freshman reliever Danny Katz helped NU bounce back from a rough start, allowing just two earned runs in a career-high five innings pitched.

Senior pitcher Jake Stolley lasted only two innings in his first career start as he struggled with control, walking 3 of the 12 batters he faced. Coach Spencer Allen inserted Katz after a leadoff walk in the third, and he responded by tossing four straight innings without allowing an earned run.

“When you come in and have runners on base, you just want to do your job and limit as many runs as you can, then hopefully get the bats going like we did,” Katz said. “Then when you go out there with the lead, you know you just gotta throw strikes, attack the hitters, pound the zone and let your fielders make plays.”

By the time Katz gave up a two-run homer in the seventh inning, the Cats had turned a 3-0 deficit into a 10-3 lead.

Allen said coming into the game, he was not planning on having Katz throw five innings.

“He was just going to throw two or three,” Allen said. “He was really efficient with getting his outs and just pounding the strike zone. The tempo that he worked at changed the whole game. We were just like like, man, let’s him keep rolling.”

After pounding Chicago State, it’s safe to say the home opener was a success for NU. The Cats totaled 11 hits as a team, but none were bigger than Claeys’ historic blast.

“That just relaxed everybody,” Allen said. “It started before that with a couple walks, a couple good swings on the ball, and that just allowed Claeys to do his thing.”

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