The Wildcats’ run continues. Northwestern entered the tournament as the seventh seed, but the Wildcats were the conference’s hottest team. Taking on Minnesota in the winner’s-half of bracket one, Spencer Allen’s team picked up a 11-7 win, to advance to the semifinals. Here’s the 10 on highlights, notes and thoughts from Friday’s first contest.
The weather breaks
After two days of gloomy, dreary, wet, chilly, just not-fun weather, Friday’s action opened under sunny skies and warm weather. The weather helps the Big Ten get the tournament back on schedule before semi-final play begins Saturday, and should help the attendance at Bart Kaufman Field with the host Hoosiers set for an evening contest against the loser of the Gophers-Wildcats.
A very offensive week continues
With the temperature settling into the high-70s, low-80s, and a breeze out to left field, the conditions were there for a very offensive game, not that the week has been short on offense. The two teams combined for 21 hits and four home runs, as only one full inning was played scoreless, continuing the theme of the week.
Coffey, Hanson deliver big blows
Three of the home runs were hit by Minnesota, starting in the first inning with a two-run blast to right field by Micah Coffey. After Northwestern responded and grabbed a 5-2 lead after three innings, batting behind Coffey, Toby Hanson also homered to right, bringing the Gophers within two runs. In the heart of the order, Coffey and Hanson combined to go 5-for-9 with four runs and three RBI, doing their part to keep Minnesota in the see-saw contest.
Christie settles in nicely
After Coffey’s two-run home run in the first, Northwestern freshman right-handed pitcher Hank Christie settled in. Christie retired the next nine batters, until he surrendered the home run to Hanson. But the second home run didn’t rattle the rookie too much, retiring five of the next six batters, relinquishing only a two-out single in the fifth. Rebounding from the shaky start to pitch 5.1 innings, Christie helped saved the Northwestern bullpen for the weekend, helping the Widlcats head into play as one of the final four with a fairly rested pitching staff.
Schulze unable to find the third-out
While the NU freshman right-hander was able and turn in a serviceable start after a rough first inning, the same couldn’t be said about Minnesota’s freshman righty, Brett Schulze. Schulze retired the first two Wildcats, but a single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases before Connor Lind cleared them with a double to left center. Their two-run lead turning into a one-run deficit, the first inning was unfortunately a sign of things to come for Minnesota. Schulze did get out of the first, a fly out to right one pitch after Lind’s double ended the inning, but a leadoff walk to start NU’s second-inning at-bat brought the end to Schulze’s day.
Hoscheit’s out-of-this-world bat
Producing the best in-conference batting average in 18 years with a .468 average, Northwestern senior outfielder Joe Hoscheit continues to beat up Big Ten pitching. Scoring four runs, Hoscheit went 2-for-4, including a home run to left center field, providing the final run, and exclamation point on Northwestern’s victory. Hoscheit is swinging the Big Ten’s most lethal bat, at the forefront of the Wildcats’ surprising run in Bloomington.
The Wildcats were more clutch
Though the two teams were close in hits, Northwestern’s 11 hits edging Minnesota’s 10, when the hits came was the deciding factor. With two outs, Northwestern batted .500, picking up six hits in 12 at-bats while Minnesota managed only two hits in nine at-bats. With runners in scoring position, NU went 6-for-11 compared to another 2-for-9 showing by the Gophers. Minnesota did successfully record a hit in their lone at-bat with a runner on third and less than two outs, but NU’s .538 average with runners on base led to five hits in six at-bats where a runner was 90 feet from scoring with either one or not outs. In their second game against a top-three seeded team, the Wildcats were extremely clutch.
In the bottom of the seventh, Minnesota head coach John Anderson was ejected from the contest, making two consecutive games a head coach was ejected from a Big Ten Tournament game. In the final game of Thursday action, Maryland head coach John Szefc was ejected for arguing a non-hit by pitch call. The Terrapins would rather late, winning 5-2 under the direction of associate head coach Rob Vaughan. The Gophers were not able to duplicate the feat of the Terrapins, unable to rally under the direction of their associate head coach, Rob Fornasiere.
Minnesota’s quick turnaround
Due to weather and the length of games on Wednesday and Thursday, the tournament was two games behind schedule entering Friday. Fortunately, Friday only had two scheduled games, along with no rain in the forecast to make up the games. The result, with the Big Ten needing to get in as many games as possible before Saturday and narrow the tournament field down to four, Minnesota has a quick turnaround. The Gophers will play a second game on Friday, against Indiana, looking to keep their season alive.
Two down, two more for NU
With their seventh consecutive win, the team’s longest winning streak since 2003, Northwestern moves into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. With two wins, taking down the tournament’s number two and three seeds, the Wildcats stand two wins away from their first Big Ten Tournament championship, which would put them in their first NCAA Tournament.