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

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

The Daily Northwestern

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Baseball: Northwestern drops weekend sweep at Illinois

Daily file photo by Amelia Stone
Junior utility player Preston Knott stands in the batter’s box during a game earlier this season. Knott extended his hitting streak to 10 games this weekend against Illinois.

A week removed from picking up its first Big Ten conference series win in more than a year, Northwestern failed to carry momentum into this weekend, dropping three games to a hot Illinois squad. 

The Wildcats (12-23, 2-10 Big Ten) lost 5-3 on Friday, 7-1 on Saturday and 11-7 on Sunday to the Fighting Illini (23-13, 10-2 Big Ten), who hold first place in the Big Ten with a two-game cushion. 

NU started the series with a boom Friday after sophomore second baseman Owen McElfatrick hammered a rocket of a home run over the left field wall. The leadoff batter before him, junior utility player Preston Knott, worked a nine-pitch single after fouling off four straight pitches, rounding the bases alongside McElfatrick to put the ’Cats up 2-0 in the first inning.

Fighting Illini catcher Jacob Schroeder’s second-inning homer halved the deficit before his squad tied the game in the bottom of the third inning. Then, after coach Ben Greenspan pulled his starting pitcher Nolan Morr, senior pitcher Matt McClure allowed three runs in the bottom of the fourth to make the score 5-2 in favor of the hosts.

The only other NU run came from senior outfielder Griffin Arnone, who doubled to right center and scored freshman utility player Griffin Mills.

Though McClure settled down for the rest of the game, only earning those three runs on seven hits through five full innings of work, he was credited with the loss.

McClure’s pitching has improved from earlier this season. The right-hander’s ERA has plummeted over the past month, from 9.72 on March 16 to 4.66 on Friday. His usage has also soared; in March, his outings lasted fewer than three innings per game. He has pitched around five-and-a-half innings in each of his last three outings.

On Saturday, Illinois demonstrated why it sits comfortably atop the Big Ten throne –– its ability to hit the long ball. The Fighting Illini lead the conference with 64 home runs –– the team in second, Penn State, has hit just 50. 

Behind a two-home run performance from outfielder Connor Milton, Illinois handily dispatched the ’Cats 7-1 in the series’ second leg. The lone NU run came again from McElfatrick — a single that scored freshman infielder Zach Selfon.

Sunday’s match was a bullpen game for the ’Cats, who trotted out six pitchers in an 11-7 defeat. Freshman pitcher Garrett Shearer was credited with the loss, allowing five earned runs over three innings of work.

Illinois jumped out to a 6-1 lead by the fifth inning, digging NU into a deep hole to climb out of. The ’Cats’ offense, a fairly cold unit all weekend, warmed up as the game neared its end. Arnone’s two-run double trimmed the gap to 6-3, but a Fighting Illini grand slam extended their advantage to seven runs.

Though first baseman Trent Liolios hit a home run in the eighth inning and the ’Cats plated three more in the ninth, the comeback attempt was quashed and Illinois solidified its weekend sweep.

NU’s top performers of this series: McElfatrick, who went 4-11 over three games, hit a home run and drove in three runs; Knott, who reached base safely in all three games and extended his hitting streak to 10 straight contests; and Arnone, who hit 4-11 with three RBIs.

The ’Cats return to Rocky and Berenice Miller Park on Tuesday for a mid-week matchup against Illinois State. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @HenryFrieman

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