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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Baseball: 6th-inning romp leads Northwestern to a home-opener victory

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Sophomore infielder Owen McElfatrick makes a swing during Northwestern baseball’s home opener against Illinois State on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

With Northwestern and Illinois State tied 1-1 in the sixth inning Tuesday, junior catcher Bennett Markinson held the weight of the game — his team’s home opener — in his hands.

Then, Markinson went yard.

“Sometimes you need that as an offense,” coach Ben Greenspan said. “That first guy gets a big one, and you go from there.”

Markinson’s home run arced auspiciously over the left field fence, and the Wildcats (2-5, 0-0 Big Ten) followed with a romp over the Redbirds (2-5, 0-0 Missouri Valley) just as the visiting defense faltered. 

NU netted three more runs in the sixth and snapped a five-game losing streak in emphatic fashion with a 5-1 victory.

In a game where the ’Cats recorded just six hits, the sixth-inning flurry arose from a number of factors — and players. Illinois State pitchers Tanner Perry and Braden Roesch allowed three walks in four at-bats, filling up the bases and setting the stage for NU’s insurmountable lead.

Graduate student outfielder Griffin Arnone then launched an RBI deep toward right field. On the next at-bat, the Redbirds struggled to reel in a hard-hit ball to the first base line, juggling the ball in the infield as the ’Cats notched another run. 

Up next at the plate? A passed ball that gave NU another run, its fourth of the inning.

Illinois State’s sixth-inning bungles arrived after a stronger start for the team from Normal, Illinois. Meanwhile, the ’Cats’ bats started off quietly — notching three hits in the first five innings, including one RBI in the second.

Not Wildcat wunderkinds, graduate student pitcher Kyle Potthoff and sophomore right-hander Amar Tsengeg arrived this year at NU after respective stints at the University of Missouri and the University of Texas at Dallas. Still, they allowed only three hits until the Redbirds’ Shai Robinson launched a far-left home run that clunked the foul pole in the sixth.

“I’m really proud of the way we competed on the mound, competed in the strike zone,” Greenspan said.

After the action-packed sixth inning, NU’s bullpen allowed five hits but kept the Redbirds at bay and iced the 5-1 victory.

Tuesday’s game followed a stretch of early losses on the road this month. No. 12 Duke swept last weekend’s series in North Carolina, underscoring the ’Cats’ inconsistency in offense and troubles with pitching depth.

“Tough weekend at Duke,” Markinson said. “They were a really good team. I thought we played better than the box score shows, the first two weekends as a whole. I think it’s huge to be able to come in February in Chicago and play a home game and get a win.”

The victory over Illinois State also marks a decisive milestone for Greenspan, who arrived as coach in August after the turbulent, hapless 2023 campaign. 

A non-conference series this weekend against Bethune-Cookman in Florida could test whether the team continues some much-needed momentum.

“We all believe, I think, there was no hindrance from the first two weekends,” Markinson said. “We know what we can do. It’s just great to be in the home ballpark, get a win and get rolling as we move forward.”

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