Baseball: Wildcats seek first conference win in weekend series against Iowa


(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Tommy Bordignon delivers the pitch. The junior will open the weekend series against Iowa.

Joseph Wilkinson, Reporter


Following a three-game sweep at the hands of Indiana in March, Northwestern is still looking for its first Big Ten win of the season. And with Iowa visiting this weekend, the Wildcats will get a chance to capitalize on the first step to making it back to postseason play for the first time since 2010.

Last season, the Hawkeyes (18-9, 2-1 Big Ten) were the last team to qualify for the conference tournament, snatching the No. 8 seed with a 12-12 conference record. Meanwhile, NU (8-19, 0-3 Big Ten) hasn’t experienced the same recent success, as the Cats last participated in the postseason in 2010 when the team secured the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

“That’s something that we don’t talk about a lot,” coach Spencer Allen said. “We talked about it at the beginning of the year, and our guys have their eyes set on it. We have to take care of some business at home.”

But the Cats’ quest to return to postseason play got off to a rough start this season, with a conference-opening sweep against a visiting Hoosiers squad that drove in 29 combined runs in three games.

However, the scoreline didn’t tell the whole story. NU hung around against Indiana, leading in the first game and losing by only a single run in the final two. Despite the series of close contests, the Cats’ 0-3 record has them sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten looking up.

“These games are very important,” sophomore infielder Jack Dunn said. “Coach said that depending on how we play this could be a season-changing series right here. We played well against Indiana; we just didn’t come out on top.”

Leading up to this weekend’s series, Iowa came away with two out of three wins against Purdue in its Big Ten-opening series. The Hawkeyes relied on their bats to carry the team to victory, as Iowa’s lineup features the 84th best batting average in the country, combining for a team average of .282 — 35 points higher than NU’s.

But the Hawkeyes have a much more modest pitching staff, with their pitchers allowing 4.15 earned runs per nine innings — still more than a full run lower than the Cats’ own 5.62 ERA.

“They’re real aggressive at the plate,” junior pitcher Tommy Bordignon said. “For us, just being able to execute pitches low in the zone and get ahead with our fastball will be important. We need to get into counts where we can take advantage of their aggressiveness.”

The last two home weekend series, NU’s rotation has featured Bordignon starting Friday followed by freshmen Hank Christie and Matt Gannon. Allen has decided to go with the same trio again against the Hawkeyes.

But the group will need to show improvement if the Cats plan to pick up the team’s first conference win this weekend. Gannon has the lowest ERA of the group at 4.22, but Bordignon has struggled, carrying a less than ideal 9.95 ERA. Bordignon has also had trouble with his control this season, walking 21 batters and throwing eight wild pitches in his 19 innings.

For NU, the journey to the Big Ten Tournament starts this weekend. But the Cats want to do more than just qualify for the conference tournament.

“Ultimately, we want to make the NCAA Tournament,” Allen said. “But to do that you have to make the Big Ten Tournament first.”

Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson