With their first Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2010 in sight, Northwestern baseball knew a win in this weekend’s series against Michigan State — with which it entered Friday tied for eighth in the conference — would go a long way.
A split of Friday’s doubleheader, though, was acceptable and heaped a lot of importance on Saturday’s rubber game.
The Wildcats (17-24, 6-8 Big Ten) fell 8-1 to the Spartans in the first game after committing three errors but got back on track in Game 2, taking down Michigan State (22-17, 6-8 Big Ten) by a run, 3-2, behind an impressive Hank Christie start and effective Sam Lawrence relief outing.
Inclement weather for the weekend resulted in the series being condensed, as the teams played a double-dip on Friday and will conclude early on Saturday, at 11:00 am.
Cooper Wetherbee got the start for Northwestern in the first game on Friday, and was pretty effective. He was granted an early lead on a first inning Joe Hoscheit sacrifice fly and held the hard-hitting Spartans off the board until the sixth, when things started to get out of hand.
A passed ball by Jack Claeys scored Bryce Kelley to tie the game at one and a two-run home run — ripped over the left field fence by Chad Roskelly off Pete Hofman — gave Michigan State, and starter Alex Troop, a 3-1 lead the Spartans would keep building onto.
Troop shut down the Wildcats in his seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just five hits and a walk. Of Northwestern’s six hits on the day, five were singles (with just one double) as no serious challenge was made to Troop or reliever Walter Borkovich. Michigan State also added a run off Tommy Bordignon in the eighth before Tyler Lass was lit up for four runs in an ugly top of the ninth.
Due to the three errors committed by the Wildcats (one each for Alex Erro, Jack Dunn and Joe Hoscheit), only four of the eight runs allowed by Northwestern pitching went down as earned. It was just a bad an all-around showing from Northwestern.
Game 2 was also close for much of the day, but this time, the Wildcats came out ahead.
Despite striking out 13 times as a team (with 11 against Michigan State’s starter Jake Lowery), Northwestern got a pair of run-scoring base knocks that gave Christie and fellow freshman Sam Lawrence the support they need.
In the fourth, with a pair of runners on base, Claeys ripped a line drive single to left that scored Hoscheit from second and Matt Hopfner from first. Yes, you read that right. Hopfner — who was running on the pitch — caught the Spartans off-guard and ambled all the way to the plate. The hit would be Lowery’s only major mistake all game.
Meanwhile, Christie baffled Michigan State for 5 1⁄3 innings before a pair of sixth innings runs led to Lawrence replacing him with the bases loaded and one out. Lawrence coaxed a sacrifice fly from Roskelly before escaping the frame with no further damage done.
But an inning later, the Spartans pushed across another run off Lawrence to even up the game at two. Lawrence rebounded to toss a clean eighth inning before the Wildcats retook the lead for good with a Hopfner single up the middle that scored Erro and gave Northwestern a 3-2 lead.
There would be no more insurance runs, and Lawrence went back out there in the ninth to try and to nail down his third win of the season. A Dan Chmielewski single with one out made things a little iffy, but the hard-throwing lefty came back to retire Marty Bechina on a flyout and strike out Danny Gleaves with some heat.
Matt Gannon will start for Northwestern on Saturday while Andrew Gonzalez will get the call for the Spartans.