March 23, 2014
Minnesota 2, Northwestern 1|
Lou Brock Sports Complex St. Charles, Mo.
Box Score | Box Score
ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- Northwestern wound up on the short end of a brilliant pitcher's duel in its series finale against the Minnesota Golden Gophers Sunday, falling 2-1. The Wildcats led 1-0, but the Gophers posted two runs in the sixth inning to take the lead for good at the Lou Brock Sports Complex at Lindenwood University.
Sophomore Matt Portland started the game for the 'Cats and he was quite sharp early on. The Victor, N.Y., native retired the first seven hitters of the game in order before allowing one of only three hits with one out in the top of the third. After a sacrifice bunt, Portland got a grounder to shortstop Cody Stevens to get off the mound unblemished.
In the bottom of the third inning, NU's offense picked up steam. Jake Schieber led off the stanza with his second base hit to center field in as many at-bats, but he was erased on a fielder's choice. Scott Heelan reached safely on the play and he made second on a wild pitch by Minnesota starter Ben Meyer. Later, with two outs in the frame, first baseman Zach Jones legged out an infield single to second base to get Heelan over to third and extend the inning ahead of third baseman Joe Hoscheit. The freshman made the most of the opportunity by ripping a single to center that plated the first run of the day.
Staked to a one-run lead, Portland continued to mow through the Gophers' lineup. After allowing a lead-off single to start the fourth, the sophomore got an easy fly ball to Matt Hopfner in right field before Jones and Stevens turned a nifty 3-6-3 double play to squash the threat. He also worked a three-up, three-down fifth inning before being tested in the top of the sixth.
Portland fanned Tyler Hanson to open the sixth, but then surrendered bases on balls to the next two hitters. The Gophers took advantage of the walks when third baseman Tony Skjefte clubbed a double to left-centerfield that allowed them both to score to take a 2-1 lead. Portland buckled down and stranded two men on base when he got another fly ball to Hopfner to end the frame.
Northwestern, meanwhile, had been held without a base runner from the fourth inning on until Jones poked a single up the middle against Meyer to start the ninth. Jones was lifted for a pinch runner, RJ Watters, and Watters advanced to second when pinch hitter Jake Straub put down a textbook sacrifice bunt. After a flyout to center field, another pinch hitter Reid Hunter, was hit by a Meyer offering to keep the rally alive. A third pinch hitter, Mike Trucco, put a charge into what would be Meyer's final pitch of the day, but the right fielder, Bobby Juan, tracked it down to end the ballgame.
Despite a quality start on the bump of 8.0 IP and just the two runs allowed, Portland took the loss, his third of the season. He struck out six Golden Gophers on the day. Meyer collected his second win for Minnesota.
The Wildcats are scheduled to play their first midweek game of the season on Wednesday, March 26 at Eastern Michigan at 2 p.m. CT. Northwestern will continue Big Ten play next weekend, March 28-30 at Penn State. It will be NU's first trip to take on the Nittany Lions on their home turf since the 2010 campaign.
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