Baseball: Northwestern drops opening Big Ten series to Purdue


Mika Ellison/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior right-hander David Utagawa looks up at a pop-out. The right-hander allowed two runs in NU’s Game One loss to Purdue.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

Northwestern (3-19, 1-2 Big Ten) traveled to West Lafayette, Indiana, this weekend to take on Purdue (12-14, 3-3 Big Ten) for a three-game series, opening conference play for the season. Though 2023 has been a difficult year for the Wildcats, the set gave NU a chance to win its first series of the season.

However, NU’s opening performance on Friday dimmed the chances of early conference success.

Junior right-hander Matt McClure gave up an RBI single in the first inning — an early cause for concern. McClure settled in nicely from there, recording scoreless frames in each of the next four innings and laying the foundation for an NU lead in the first half of the contest.

Prior to the bottom of the sixth, the Cats held a 2-1 advantage courtesy of senior first baseman Stephen Hrustich’s RBI double down the third-base line in the top of the third and graduate student outfielder Griffin Arnone’s solo home run in the top of the fifth.

But McClure’s success did not last. He began to struggle when facing Purdue hitters a third time through the order. The right-hander allowed three runs in the bottom of the sixth, forcing NU head coach Jim Foster to remove him after recording just one out in the frame. By the end of the sixth, NU faced a 4-2 deficit.

The Cats faced a similar fate the next two frames, as juniors left-hander Nolan Morr and right-hander David Utagawa gave up two runs each. Though the Cats recorded four runs on nine hits, their pitchers’ inability to limit the Boilermakers’ hitters made it difficult for NU’s offense to keep up. NU went on to drop the opener 8-4.

After Saturday’s game was postponed due to inclement weather, the teams played a doubleheader to close out the series Sunday. Game Two proved to be a much better result for the Cats, who did not trail at any point of the contest and won 7-3.

Arnone continued an excellent weekend in the batter’s box Sunday afternoon, when he blasted his second solo home run of the series to put NU on the board in the top of the fourth. Senior infielder Evan Minarovic’s RBI single in the sixth coupled with his two-run double ripped to right-center in the top of the eighth extended NU’s advantage to 7-1. A couple of batters later, following a hit-by-pitch and a walk, freshman infielder Trent Liolios capitalized on the opportunity with an RBI infield single that propelled NU toward a five-run eighth inning.

On the mound, graduate student right-hander Michael Farinelli was on point, allowing just one run on two hits over six-and-one-third innings. Early on, the right-hander was nearly unhittable, punching out the first five-of-nine batters he faced. Farinelli finished Sunday afternoon’s contest with nine strikeouts, leading the Cats toward a wire-to-wire victory.

An hour after the Game Two victory, NU aimed to take the series with another strong pitching performance. Freshman left-hander Sam Garewal was unstoppable in the first few frames, racking up two strikeouts in his first three scoreless innings. But the southpaw’s struggles came in the fourth inning when he could not work around a pair of errors, ultimately surrendering three runs.

NU’s offense could not get its bats going in the first six innings, registering only one hit and trailing 3-0 entering the seventh. That changed when Arnone continued his monstrous series, putting the offense on his back once again when he hit his third solo home run in three games, cutting the deficit to two.

The Cats were unable to score in the eighth. But with the game on the line in the ninth, the offense rallied through Hrustich and sophomore catcher Alex Calarco. The pair’s RBI singles leveled the score at three and forced the game into extras.

Unfortunately, NU’s attempts at a comeback and a series-clinching victory fell just short, as the Cats allowed a Boilermakers walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth and ultimately fell 4-3.

The Cats will travel to South Bend, Indiana, next to take on Notre Dame on Tuesday, hoping to build on the steady momentum. NU will host its first conference series of the season next weekend in a home matchup against Illinois.

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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