Baseball: Northwestern takes down Illinois State in in-state battle


Daily file photo by David Lee

Casey O’Laughlin follows through on his swing. The sophomore went 3-for-4 in NU’s win over Illinois State on Wednesday.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Reporter


Two outs into the top of the fifth inning of Wednesday’s game between Illinois State and Northwestern, the Redbirds’ Jeremy Gaines hit a screamer to left field. With a man already at second base and a score seemingly inevitable, Wildcats sophomore outfielder Casey O’Laughlin launched a rocket to home plate, beating the runner by a couple of seconds.

It was one of the biggest plays of the game, but O’Laughlin was quick to turn the credit away from himself.

“Coach did a good job, he brought us in a little bit,” O’Laughlin said, referencing a fielding shift made in the game. “I just knew, the ball gets hit on the ground and I gotta be ready to come up throwing. Luckily, (I) made a pretty good throw and Jack Anderson put a nice tag down.”

That throw had massive implications in NU’s (19-22, 6-9 Big Ten) eventual 6-3 win. Allowing that runner to score would’ve put Illinois State (27-18, 9-3 Missouri Valley) up by one with two outs. Instead, O’Laughlin’s magic ended the top of the inning with a tied-up score.

An outburst of offense three innings later in the eighth — in which Illinois State recorded two runs and the Cats scored five — propelled NU to victory.

O’Laughlin contributed at the plate as well, batting 3-for-4 on the day and contributing an RBI and a run. Coach Spencer Allen said O’Laughlin’s first hit of the afternoon, a double over to the right field line in the third frame, put NU in the right place offensively.

“He hit a ball real hard,” Allen said. “He hit that double and got us going there to score the first run. I think really that just set the tone for us offensively. Those are winning plays, those are plays that you have to have.”

For a while, the game was mostly uneventful — a 1-1 tie with quick innings and few hits. The two teams combined for just six hits across 31 at-bats.

Then came the eighth inning, and an explosion of offense would erase a short-lived Illinois State lead. At the top, the Redbirds scored two quick runs off two base hits and a wild pitch from junior Nick Paciorek.

From there, it was an onslaught. The Cats scored five runs off six hits, erasing the deficit and building a 3-run lead. Allen said the team’s burst of offense came down to timely extra-base hitting.

“It’s just getting the leadoff guy on,” Allen said. “This has been a little bit of a thorn in our side, just getting the extra-base hits, so we get the single by Alex (Erro) and then we get an extra-base hit on a day where the ball is not traveling great … I just think it put us in a really good spot.”

NU’s offense turned two bunts into base hits in the eighth inning. The first, launched by freshman infielder David Dunn, tied the game at three runs apiece.

Dunn said the Cats chose the bunt to exploit Illinois State’s defensive inefficiencies and to take advantage of their own baserunning abilities.

“We have a lot of good bunters on our team,” Dunn said. “When we use that to our advantage, we’re able to get on base a little more than some teams can. Just seeing how they kind of struggled fielding the ball, we just kept doing what we’re good at and getting runners across.”

NU entered the matchup with the nation’s 106th-best RPI and took down a team rated 76 spots ahead. The team will face Nebraska at home this weekend with everything on the line, fighting for a Big Ten Tournament berth.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Northwestern’s game against Illinois State. It was an intrastate matchup.

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