Baseball: Northwestern looks to recapture magic from 2017 tournament win in trip to Ann Arbor


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Alex Erro prepares to swing. The junior is one of four remaining starters from NU’s last trip to Ann Arbor during its 2017 Big Ten Tournament run.

Ryan Wangman, In Focus Editor


The last time Northwestern beat Michigan on the baseball diamond was nothing short of a miracle.

After sneaking into the 2017 Big Ten Tournament as the No. 7 seed by winning their last five regular season games, the Wildcats were down 4-3 in the top of the ninth to No. 2 Michigan, a nationally-ranked squad with over 40 wins on the year. The Wolverines’ 6-foot-6 closer Jackson Lamb stood tall on the mound to finish out the game, and NU’s comeback prospects didn’t look good — the mustachioed righty hadn’t allowed an earned run all season.

But three runs and a shutout bottom half of the inning later, the Cats had executed their improbable upset in stunning fashion.

“We want to come here and we want to make some noise,” Alex Erro said in 2017 after the win. “We want to gain some respect for our program, and I think we’re doing that by showing top-notch teams that we’re not here to mess around.”

Now, with a few key players from the 2017 roster still on the team and a trip to Ann Arbor on tap this weekend, NU (16-17, 5-4 Big Ten) has another chance to make a statement for the program against the Wolverines (25-11, 5-3) — albeit on a smaller scale. Their opportunity last season in Evanston didn’t go well, as the Cats were swept and shut out twice.

Erro, senior shortstop Jack Dunn and outfielders Ben Dickey and Leo Kaplan — the last remaining starters from that tournament appearance — will look to bring their 2017 experience into the weekend’s matchup. This is the first of back-to-back trips to the Great Lakes State, as NU will head to East Lansing next weekend to take on Michigan State.

Michigan’s Friday starter will likely be junior Tommy Henry, a veteran southpaw. Henry started off his season strong, allowing just four earned runs in his first seven starts, but the wheels have fallen off lately and he has allowed 13 earned runs in his past two starts alone.

To capitalize on this Michigan vulnerability, NU will need Dunn to come through, and if he continues to hit at the torrid clip he showed off last weekend against Maryland — 6 hits and 7 RBIs in 13 at-bats — the Cats should be in good shape.

Both teams have played Ohio State (21-17, 4-5) in Columbus, to varying degrees of success. NU’s bats came alive in the series earlier this month, plating 30 total runs with a combined winning margin of 19. Michigan surprisingly lost two of three games to the Buckeyes in blowouts last weekend, allowing ten runs eachl in Friday and Saturday defeats.

At this relatively early point in the conference season, eight teams are within 1.5 games of each other in the third to tenth spots in the standings. A series win, or even just one victory, would help the Cats separate themselves from the pack and increase their chances of making the eight-team tournament.

Following a tough midweek loss to Notre Dame, Erro said the team is looking to rebound this weekend. Facing a litany of good Fighting Irish arms, he said, served as a learning experience for the team.

“Overall, we’ve been playing good baseball,” Erro said. “So we’re not going to let one hiccup just completely alarm us. We’re going to keep playing our game and take a good weekend into Michigan.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ryanwangman

Related Stories:
Baseball: Northwestern musters only two hits in 6-2 loss to Notre Dame
Baseball: Since switching double-play partners, NU has won nine of ten games