Baseball: Friday doubleheader highlights Northwestern series against Michigan


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Willie Bourbon takes a cut against Chicago State on Wednesday. The freshman infielder helped the Wildcats christen their newly-renovated stadium, launching a solo home run in their 6-run third inning.

Ben Pope, Reporter


Riding a streak of solid outings over the past week, Northwestern’s three-game home series against surging Michigan this weekend offers the host an opportunity to make a statement in its Big Ten home opener.

The Wildcats (7-18, 1-2 Big Ten) played three tight games at Ohio State (16-7-1, 2-1) last weekend and then debuted renovated Rocky and Berenice Miller Park with a convincing 11-5 win over Chicago State on Wednesday. Entering a doubleheader with the Wolverines (17-5, 0-0) on Friday followed by a third meeting Sunday, NU is seeking to continue that momentum.

We’re coming off a big series against Ohio State where we could’ve taken two games,” freshman infielder Willie Bourbon said after Wednesday’s victory over Chicago State. “After having another game like this, it helps with our confidence rolling into the weekend. I think we’re on a great path to come and take two out of three, three out of three … against Michigan.”

Michigan, however, will pose a significant challenge. The Wolverines have won six straight, including most recently topping Central Michigan 9-7 on Tuesday. Additionally, Michigan took two-of-three games in series against the Cats in both 2014 and 2015.

NU will send out its three regular starters with the lowest ERAs this year to counter Michigan’s stellar .303 team batting average. Senior pitcher Reed Mason (2-1, 3.23 ERA) and junior Matt Hopfner (0-2, 3.12 ERA) are expected to start one game each in Friday’s doubleheader and sophomore Dan Kubiuk (0-1, 3.00 ERA) is projected to make his fifth start of the season Sunday.

Sunday’s contest, although technically the fourth home game of the season, will officially be the grand opening celebration of NU’s expanded and improved ballpark. After playing series in places as distant as San Diego, California and Port Charlotte, Florida, earlier this spring, the players said they’re excited to settle into a routine at home in Evanston.

This weekend should be awesome,” said sophomore catcher Jack Claeys, who hit a grand slam Wednesday. “We’re supposed to have a good amount of fans coming out and it’ll be great to finally just be on our own turf.”

The series originally included one Friday game and one Saturday game, but forecasted gusty weather on Saturday forced the schedule to be rearranged. As a result, NU will play its first doubleheader since March 11 and its first home doubleheader since April 26 of last year on Friday.

Two days after scoring double-digit runs for the second time since the first leg of that March 11 doubleheader, the Cats will need to continue their hitting success against a Michigan rotation that has allowed 14 earned runs over its last three games. That could be the key to knocking off a Wolverines squad that has one of the best non-conference records in the Big Ten.

If we just play good, clean baseball, the difference between the top end and the middle in the Big Ten is not that big,” coach Spencer Allen said. “We’re going to get a good test this weekend with Michigan, but we’re excited and we’re going to use a lot of the momentum we’ve built here these past four, five games.”

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