Baseball: Wildcats drop 2 of 3 crucial conference games against Illinois

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Baseball: Wildcats drop 2 of 3 crucial conference games against Illinois

Joe Hoscheit takes a swing. The senior outfielder had a good weekend, but the Wildcats dropped two of three to Illinois.

Joe Hoscheit takes a swing. The senior outfielder had a good weekend, but the Wildcats dropped two of three to Illinois.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Joe Hoscheit takes a swing. The senior outfielder had a good weekend, but the Wildcats dropped two of three to Illinois.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Joe Hoscheit takes a swing. The senior outfielder had a good weekend, but the Wildcats dropped two of three to Illinois.

Joseph Wilkinson, Reporter

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In a back-and-forth series this weekend, Northwestern ended up on the losing end twice against Illinois and saw its Big Ten Tournament hopes take a major hit.

The Wildcats (13-22, 3-6 Big Ten) are now 11th in the Big Ten standings, which leaves them on the outside looking in at the eight-team conference tournament. The best game of the series was the Friday opener, which snapped NU’s four-game winning streak coming into the series. It went 11 innings and ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Cats as senior Pete Hofman walked in the winning run with the bases loaded to hand Illinois the 4-3 victory.

Despite the losses to the Fighting Illini (14-19, 3-6), coach Spencer Allen found reasons for optimism.

“Either team could’ve won that Friday night game. I had no problem with how we played,” Allen said. “We just got a little tentative offensively on Sunday. I was hoping for a better start and to really just get them on the ropes.”

Given the nature of the loss Friday, the bounce back performance on Saturday was extremely impressive. The visitors jacked two home runs among their 12 hits as a team, and senior outfielder Joe Hoscheit led the way with a grand slam in the fourth inning to put NU ahead 7-2.

“It was really just about having a consistent approach at the plate,” Hoscheit said. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that coaches and teams pitch to you in a certain way, and I kind of keyed in on that and it helped me throughout the season.”

Hoscheit added another home run on Sunday, just one of his eight hits on the weekend.

Not to be outdone, fellow senior outfielder Matt Hopfner had three RBIs of his own Saturday, thanks to an inside-the-park home run in the first inning to start the offensive onslaught. He also came through with a clutch double in the ninth Sunday to score Hoscheit and spark a rally that fell just short.

“We just stayed disciplined at the plate and got good pitches to hit,” Hopfner said. “In the middle part of the order guys like to work the corners and try to get you to chase a little bit. The big thing for … guys in the middle of the order is to wait for good pitches that we can drive.”

After two solid pitching performances on Friday and Saturday, the Cats fell apart in the series finale, a 10-8 loss. The bullpen, after allowing only one earned run in 7.2 innings in the first two games, surrendered eight in the final one.

“We had some good pitching performances,” Allen said. “Hank Christie, what he did on Saturday in those conditions, the weekend was just absolutely gusting out. He pitched in the bottom of the zone he didn’t walk anyone. He was just really consistent.”

The main culprits were juniors Tommy Bordignon and Richard Fordon, who allowed 5 runs on five hits in the sixth inning as the Illini put the game out of reach.

With only three wins in its first nine conference games, NU will face an uphill battle the rest of the way if it hopes to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.

The Cats will get another shot to pick up crucial conference wins next week against Penn State, which sits dead last in the conference and has only one conference win on the season.

“I feel like we’re playing better baseball still,” Hoscheit said. “We’re still positive going into next weekend. Next weekend is huge for us.”

Email: josephwilkinson2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson

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