Northwestern’s white-hot finish to the regular season isn’t showing signs of cooling down. Against the Big Ten’s most dominant closer, the Wildcats mounted a three-run, last-at-bat rally, to take a stunning 6-4 victory in the second game of Wednesday play in Bloomington. Here’s the 10 highlights, moments and thoughts from Northwestern’s 6-4 win.
The Wildcats find their power
Northwestern’s initial 1-0 lead and its 3-1 third-inning advantage were both produced by home runs. Connor Lind started the scoring in the top of the second with a solo home run to right field. In the Wildcats’ next at-bat, Alex Erro pulled a two-run homer to right field, too. Their respective third and fifth home runs of the season, Lind and Erro’s four-base hits were a bit of a surprise as the catalyst to NU’s early offense. Northwestern finished the regular season with 23 home runs, only the 20 by Nebraska were fewer.
Erro shows ability beyond years
Erro’s fifth home run moved him into a tie for the team lead with Joe Hoscheit. In addition to showing a good amount of pop for a freshman, Erro shows an understanding of the plate beyond what one would expect from a rookie. In going 2-for-5, Erro’s average is up to .293, but more impressively, in 215 at-bats, the second baseman has only struck out 15 times. Against Michigan starter Ryan Nutof, who set a career-high with 10 strikeouts, Erro did not go down on strikes once.
Slater’s soaring stock
Michigan senior center fielder Johnny Slater continued his all-around season. With a solo home run in the third inning to halve Michigan’s 3-1 deficit, Slater collected his fourth home run of the season. Entering the season with a career average of .207, going 1-for-3 with a walk, Slater’s average is up to .310, collecting 61 hits in 197 at-bats, with 11 doubles, seven triples and the four home runs. In center field, Slater has compiled an impressive 107 putouts, using good speed which has lead to 14 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Slater’s breakthrough season has caught the eye of scouts, his home run on Wednesday coming at a good time with 27 MLB representatives present.
Nutof settles in, racks up punchouts
With Erro’s home run, Nutof had allowed three runs off four hits, three extra-base hits, with only six outs under his belt. The Michigan bullpen started to rumble, but that would be the last trouble Nutof ran into. The right-hander scattered only two other hits over the next 4.1 innings of work, keeping Erik Bakich from turning to his bullpen earlier than desired, keeping Michigan in good shape to battle through the loser’s bracket. As he settled in, Nutof needed only 85 pitches to punch out 10 Wildcats, peppering the strike zone throughout his start.
Brdar dazzles in the field
There’s no other way to describe the defensive plays made by Michigan senior shortstop Michael Brdar, incredible.
T9 | Northwestern scores one on a single, but Michigan records the first out right here.— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) May 24, 2017
Michael Brdar is the king https://t.co/aZUS2nf0Gd
Lawrence gives NU what it needs
After Michigan grabbed the 4-3 lead with two runs in the fifth, freshman right-handed pitcher Sam Lawrence gave everything head coach Spencer Allen could have asked for. While the Wildcats are taking to the week with an “all hands on-deck” approach to its pitchers, Lawrence made life easy with 3+ innings of one-hit, scoreless relief. Lawrence tossed 22 strikes in 34 pitches, striking out three Wolverines without a walk. Lawrence did plunk Wolverine Jake Bivens to start the ninth, but he put zeros on the scoreboard until Pete Hoffman could go 1-2-3 to secure the Wildcat win.
Lamb perfect no more
Michigan closer Jackson Lamb had defied logic all year, going through the regular season with a 0.00 ERA. It wasn’t a small sample either, the senior right-handed pitcher logged 28 innings over 25 outings. But in the new season that is the postseason, Lamb’s outing was forgettable, allowing back-to-back singles to start the ninth, before issuing a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Three batters and three base runners in, Lamb’s left without recording an out. All three runners he was responsible for scored as NU mounted its rally. Even with the three runs, Lamb’s ERA is a microscopic 0.96 and he’s still one save from having sole possession of Michigan’s single-season saves record.
Northwestern not engulfed in the moment
For a team making its first postseason appearance in seven years, Northwestern did not wilt under pressure, in fact, the Wildcats flourished. NU showed no intimidation by Nutof’s mid-90s fastball, taking the early lead on home runs, and were not phased by Lamb’s 0.00 ERA when entering the ninth trailing. Head coach Spencer Allen attested Northwestern’s readiness for the moment to playing postseason baseball for the last month, needing to get hot just to make the field. Now, winners of 8-2, there’s nothing to say Northwestern doesn’t have full belief they can’t win this thing.
Michigan isn’t resting on its resume
If you thought Michigan was resting on its top-30 RPI and 40-win season, tending to matters this week in go hard, but not all-out effort to be rested and ready for next week, you’d be wrong. In his postgame press conference, Bakich says his team has prepared since Sept. 1 to be champions and they will fight their way back through the tournament, one game at a time, to be champions. While Michigan appears to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament, Bakich is not assuming that, he wants the auto-big and the title that comes with it.