Baseball: Wildcats upset Iowa for first series victory since March


Joshua Hoffman/Senior Staffer

Senior outfielder Leo Kaplan smiles during Northwestern’s April 16 game against Indiana. Kaplan hit a home run in his final home game as part of an 8-6 NU win.

John Riker, Senior Staffer


In search of a Senior Day victory and an end to its eight-game losing streak, coach Spencer Allen gave the starting nod on Saturday to graduate pitcher Hank Christie. Allen made the move in part out of necessity, with most of the Wildcats’ starters unavailable due to health and safety protocols.

But for Christie, a 2017 All Big Ten Freshman Team selection who saw his career derailed by a shoulder surgery, his Senior Day offered a chance at redemption.

Going against an Iowa lineup that had scored 15, 12 and 6 runs against NU’s pitching staff in the season’s previous matchups, Christie stood tall on the mound, holding the Hawkeyes without an earned run across five innings of work. In his final inning, the Oak Park, Ill. native forced two straight flyouts to strand two baserunners and jogged off the field to a rousing ovation from the home crowd.

“That was probably one of the most special moments because Hank’s been through a lot and he just competed,” Allen said of Christie’s performance. “I told him (Sunday) morning — that was a fun moment.”

Christie’s surprise start was one of the rare shining moments for the Cats in a season defined by health concerns and struggles against the Big Ten’s top teams. But against Iowa, the Cats filled their weekend with plenty of them, winning their final two matchups in the late innings and earning their first series win since March 28.

In Friday’s home opener, the Hawkeyes continued their dominance of NU with a 6-1 rout. Hawkeye pitcher Trenton Wallace held the Cats’ offense to just three hits and no runs across his six innings. While Allen credited Wallace as the primary reason for Iowa’s standout win, he acknowledged the challenge of the irregular pauses in his team’s schedule.

“Baseball’s such a game of rhythm, and so I was proud of the guys just for battling,” Allen said. “Maybe not being extra sharp, but they fought through and that’s not easy to do.”

After holding their Senior Day celebrations Saturday, the Cats brought the energy to the diamond with a prolific first inning. Redshirt junior outfielder David Dunn, one of NU’s 10 Senior Day honorees, opened the scoring with a bases-clearing, three-run double.

Christie pitched his longest outing of the season with five innings to keep the Cats ahead, but the Hawkeyes scored two unearned runs in the fourth inning and drove another runner home on a seventh-inning single to tie the score.

In the top of the eighth inning, junior shortstop Shawn Goosenberg lined a single for his second hit of the game and stole second before sophomore designated hitter Stephen Hrustich’s single brought Goosenberg home for the go-ahead run. Another single, this time from junior catcher Michael Trautwein, scored Hrustich for an additional run.

“Getting that extra run in the eighth was huge,” Allen said. “It came up big, and I was proud of the middle of the lineup this weekend.”

The Hawkeyes pulled within a run by scoring on a fielder’s choice call, but reliever Sam Lawrence struck out Iowa first baseman Peyton Williams to secure the win and snap the Cats’ eight-game losing streak.

NU jumped out to an early 4-0 lead Sunday on home runs from Goosenberg, Trautwein and senior outfielder Leo Kaplan in the first two innings. With limited options in the pitching staff due to health protocols, Allen opted for a committee approach using seven pitchers against Iowa’s lineup. The Hawkeyes couldn’t keep up with the Cats’ home run pace, but rallied and tied the game at 6-6 on a seventh inning single.

Following a scoreless eighth inning, Calarco reached first on a single in the bottom of the ninth, bringing up Goosenberg for a chance at his third walk-off home run of the season and first since NU’s April 10 home opener against Rutgers. After taking two balls and a strike, the star shortstop swung hard, sending a moonshot home run out to the left field pole to win the game.

Barring the rescheduling of the Cats’ earlier postponements, NU will travel to Columbus, Ohio for the regular season’s final series against Ohio State.

“I just want the guys to continue to create those special moments,” Allen said. “Whatever that is, whether they’re little victories or big moments like this, and enjoy the finish.”

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Twitter: @john__riker

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