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Series Preview: Northwestern Baseball Wraps Up Regular Season at Minnesota

The Wildcats enter the weekend trailing 8th-place Purdue by two games for the final spot in the Big Ten Conference baseball tournament.

It’s not impossible, but the ‘Cats need several prayers to be answered to advance to postseason play for the first time since 2017.

It starts with taking care of business in Minneapolis. The Wildcats and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers will face off in a three-game series starting Thursday to finish the regular season schedule. Northwestern needs a series victory over Minnesota and some help from other teams around the conference to punch a ticket to the Big Ten Conference baseball tournament in Omaha next week. The Gophers are in last place in the Big Ten with a 5-16 conference record.

The Opponent

Minnesota (15-34, 5-16 B1G) will look to avoid finishing in the cellar of the Big Ten for the second consecutive season this weekend. The Gophers will need a sweep of Northwestern and a Nebraska sweep of Michigan State to vault into 12th place. While Minnesota’s 2022 season has been underwhelming, they have found success playing at home, recording 12 of their 15 wins at U.S. Bank Stadium and Siebert Field.

The Golden Gophers’ .245 batting average ranks last in the conference, and the team only has two regulars hitting above .300. Redshirt senior utility player Jack Kelly has posted a .310 batting average and .947 on-base plus slugging percentage this year, both of which lead the team. Senior catcher and Illinois native Chase Stanke has hit 12 home runs this season, putting him in a tie for 11th among Big Ten hitters. Sophomore outfielder Brett Bateman poses a threat on the bases, swiping 21 bags in 26 attempts in 2022.

Minnesota’s weekend rotation has combined for a 4.93 earned run average on the year, led by Sunday starter Aidan Maldonado with a 4.32 ERA and a .238 batting average against. The Gophers’ best bullpen arm has been redshirt senior Tom Skoro, who paces the team in appearances (25), ERA (3.10) and WHIP (1.21). The entire pitching staff owns a 6.37 ERA, good for ninth in the conference and slightly better than Northwestern’s 6.40 team ERA.

Last weekend, Minnesota lost two of three games in Bloomington, IN against Indiana. In a non-conference game on Tuesday, the Gophers fell to Omaha 10-7 in extra innings.

John Anderson has coached the Golden Gophers since 1982 and has totaled over 1,300 career victories, the most in Big Ten Conference history. Anderson has led Minnesota to 19 NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure, most recently in 2018.

Playoff Scenarios

In order to secure a spot in the Big Ten Conference tournament, the ‘Cats must win at least two games this weekend in Minneapolis. Here are the scenarios for Northwestern to advance to the postseason.

Scenario 1

Northwestern wins series over Minnesota 2-1

AND

Michigan State wins series over Nebraska

AND one of the following:

1. Maryland wins series over Purdue 3-0

OR

2. Iowa wins series over Indiana 3-0

Scenario 2

Northwestern wins series over Minnesota 3-0

AND

Michigan State wins at least one game against Nebraska

AND one of the following:

1. Illinois wins series over Penn State 3-0

OR

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2. Rutgers wins series over Michigan 3-0

OR

3. Iowa wins series over Indiana

OR

4. Maryland wins series over Purdue

*** if Nebraska sweeps Michigan State, NU needs two of the previous 4 scenarios to occur.

‘Cats Corner

Northwestern ended the non-conference slate with a 14-4 loss in seven innings against #14 Notre Dame on Tuesday. Five Fighting Irish pitchers limited the ‘Cats to just two extra-base hits, a pair of doubles off the bat of Anthony Calarco. Ruben Fontes and Tony Livermore also had two hits in the defeat. David Utagawa took the loss on the mound, allowing seven earned runs in two innings. Jacob Scharm pitched a scoreless sixth inning before surrendering a single run in the seventh, giving the Irish the ten-run advantage that triggered the mercy rule.

The Schedule

The Wildcats and Golden Gophers will start the three-game series on Thursday, as is customary for the last series of the season to allow for an extra day of rest before the postseason tournament.

Game 1: Thursday, May 19, 6:30 p.m. CT

Game 2: Friday, May 20, 6:30 p.m. CT

Game 3: Saturday, May 21, 2:00 p.m. CT

Projected Starting Pitchers

Game 1

Northwestern: LHP Sean Sullivan (5-2, 4.45 ERA, 64.2 IP, 78 K)

Minnesota: RHP Sam Ireland (4-5, 4.86 ERA, 66.2 IP, 75 K)

Game 2

Northwestern: RHP Michael Farinelli (5-5, 3.89 ERA, 78.2 IP, 56 K)

Minnesota: RHP J.P. Massey (2-7, 5.75 ERA, 56.1 IP, 57 K)

Game 3

Northwestern: RHP Grant Comstock (0-4, 5.54 ERA, 37.1 IP, 26 K)

Minnesota: RHP Aidan Maldonado (2-3, 4.32 ERA, 66.2 IP, 82 K)

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