Baseball: Northwestern ends its season in Senior Day loss to Minnesota

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Baseball: Northwestern ends its season in Senior Day loss to Minnesota

Willie Bourbon swings. The senior first baseman played his final game for the Wildcats on Sunday.

Willie Bourbon swings. The senior first baseman played his final game for the Wildcats on Sunday.

Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Willie Bourbon swings. The senior first baseman played his final game for the Wildcats on Sunday.

Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Willie Bourbon swings. The senior first baseman played his final game for the Wildcats on Sunday.

Ryan Wangman, In Focus Editor

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When Willie Bourbon came up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Northwestern’s season finale against Minnesota and his team trailing by a run, he had the chance to write a storybook ending for his senior campaign. With a runner on first base, Bourbon represented Northwestern’s winning run.

As the Riverwoods, Illinois, native walked up to the batter’s box, the first baseman surveyed the crowd, taking note of the faces of the friends and family who supported him throughout his career.

“It (was) great to be at home, to play in front of our home crowd, to play in front of my family,” Bourbon said. “That was one of the biggest reasons I came here, was to be able to play in front of my family. And they’ve been to a lot of games. But this one was special.”

While Bourbon’s ninth inning at-bat may have marked the apex of the Senior Day tension, the entirety of the Wildcats’ matchup with Minnesota was rife with drama. Heading into Saturday’s contest, NU had split the series with the Golden Gophers and were in a dogfight with three other teams — Ohio State, Maryland and Iowa — for the last three spots in the Big Ten Tournament.

In the end, Bourbon struck out swinging, and the Cats (24-27, 11-13 Big Ten) lost Saturday afternoon’s game 6-5 to the Golden Gophers (26-25, 15-9). Four seniors played in their last game: shortstop Jack Dunn, outfielder Ben Dickey, pitcher Danny Katz and Bourbon.

On top of that, inclement weather in Evanston led to a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay, where NU players watched the other two important contests in the clubhouse as they waited to resume play. After Ohio State fought off a comeback bid from Purdue and Maryland took down Iowa, the worst-case scenario for the Cats became reality and the picture became clearer: The team needed to win or they would go home.

“Our initial reaction is like how did both those teams sweep?” senior Ben Dickey said. “Both of them were, we felt, not good teams but played good baseball at the end of the year.”

This was the first class coach Spencer Allen has coached for all four years of their careers. Allen called the seniors a “special group” and praised them for all the work they put in during their time in Evanston.

“That’s how cultures get transformed,” Allen said. “It’s about the players and they, they’ve done it. They’ve just really delivered a really good job off the field on the field. They’ve all had big moments on the field. So I’m just happy for them. I didn’t want it to end.”

NU jumped to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second before the Golden Gophers answered with two of their own in the third inning. The game went back and forth from there, with Minnesota plating runs in four consecutive innings to snag the lead. The Cats fought to keep it close, never letting the deficit on the scoreboard reach more than two runs.

As Dunn reflected on his collegiate career, he said the most important takeaway was all the memories he made with his teammates.

“Every year, you come in and you form a bond with all your teammates that, if you’re not in that locker room, you don’t really understand,” Dunn said. “The most important thing is that all the guys, all the coaches I’ve met throughout the process they’re gonna be lifelong friends, lifelong teammates.”

Similar to Dunn, Bourbon said that in his final collegiate at-bat, all he could think about was his teammates. He tried to give them a special memory they would never forget with a clutch hit in a timely situation.

But when he didn’t, he lingered in the batters’ box for a few seconds before dejectedly walking off the field for the final time and into the embracing arms of Dunn.

“It happens,” Bourbon said. “That’s the game. The game’s gonna knock you down. That’s the one thing I learned playing this game and playing life. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way and today it didn’t.”

Email: ryanw@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @ryanwangman

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