Baseball: Northwestern breaks losing streak in walk-off fashion against Notre Dame at Wrigley Field


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Graduate student outfielder Kevin Ferrer hits the ball in a matchup versus Illinois. Ferrer was instrumental toward the Wildcats’ victory at Wrigley Field, compiling four hits and driving in four runs.

Aayushya Agarwal, Senior Staffer

This past month couldn’t have gone worse for Northwestern.

After losing seven straight and being swept each of the past five weekends against conference opponents, the Wildcats (9-38, 3-18 Big Ten) looked to a Wrigley Field trip to cure their struggles. Facing Notre Dame, (29-20, 14-13 ACC) NU put in a resilient effort, clawing back from behind two different times to win in walk-off fashion 8-7 in the eleventh. 

At first, it seemed the Cats would have a fast start. However, after loading the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the first, NU failed to score courtesy of an inning-ending double-play. 

The Cats’ struggles to build momentum early hurt them in the next two innings. The Fighting Irish put up two runs each in both the second and third innings due in part to a two-run homer and a pair of RBI singles. 

Junior right-hander Matt McClure took the mound for the Cats on Tuesday. McClure tossed a scoreless first but struggled for the rest of his four inning stint, in which he allowed a total of five runs.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Cats offense flipped a switch. Rallying one after the other, NU matched the Fighting Irish’s five runs, tying the game. Cats hitters got on-base seven straight at-bats in the inning, which was capped by graduate student outfielder Kevin Ferrer and senior outfielder Stephen Hrustich’s pair of two-run doubles. 

Coming in for relief in the top of the fifth, senior right-hander Jack Dyke ensured the Fighting Irish did not have a chance to fight back. Dyke retired the first eight batters he faced and exited in the seventh inning after allowing his first base runner of the contest. 

Unfortunately, junior right-hander David Utagawa, who followed up Dyke, did not immediately rise to the task and surrendered two hits, allowing Notre Dame to retake the lead 7-5.

With NU facing a two-run deficit with only three innings to play, the Cats’ prospects seemed to bleak. But then, Ferrer once again put the Cats’ offense on his back, blasting a two-run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. The outfielder had a monster day at the plate, compiling four hits and driving in four runs. 

Settling in during the eighth inning, Utagawa was ultimately instrumental in keeping the game leveled approaching the later innings. The right-hander pitched three-and-two-third innings of relief, allowing only one run while striking out five. 

Down the stretch, the Cats had multiple opportunities to win in walk-off fashion but couldn’t compile the hits necessary for victory. In both the bottom of the ninth and tenth, the Cats stranded runners on base, delaying victory. 

However, in the 11th inning, NU turned the tables. In the bottom half of the frame, after loading the bases with two outs, the Cats finally walked it off after Hrustich successfully reached first on a Notre Dame fielding error. 

Hrustich spoke on how his final at-bat and the game’s meaning as a whole. 

“Being here at Wrigley, my second college game here, beating a team like Notre Dame, it was huge,” Hrustich said. “In the beginning, I was pretty anxious. I really wanted to get the job done. I just slowed it down and tried to hit the ball in play with two strikes.”

Tuesday’s dramatic victory was just a glimpse of NU’s potential as the team sets its sights toward next season. Coach Jim Foster added he was proud of the team’s resilient effort Tuesday night and capability to find ways to win despite past, less successful results. 

“I’m just proud of the way they keep fighting,” Foster said. “When you try to get good, it doesn’t happen overnight. They keep showing up and giving their best effort. We’ve been knocked down a lot this year and they just keep getting up.” 

The Wildcats will host Iowa (37-12, 13-7 Big Ten) for a three game series starting Thursday to close out the 2023 season. A series win for the team would go a long way in ensuring NU builds momentum heading into the offseason. 

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Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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