Undone by the big inning once again, the Northwestern Wildcats (17-25, 6-9 Big Ten) failed to capitalize on an opportunity to win a Big Ten series and move up in the conference standings, losing 13-5 to Michigan State (23-17, 7-8) on Saturday afternoon at Rocky and Bernice Miller Park in Evanston.
Northwestern now sites in 10th place in the Big Ten standings with nine games remaining, including road sets against conference stalwarts Maryland and Purdue.
In Saturday’s rubber game, a six-run fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie and put the game out of reach for Northwestern. Head coach Spencer Allen was disappointed with his team’s focus following the Michigan State rally.
“Today, we quit,” Allen said. “They beat us and they got a big hit in a big inning and we quit. That's what I just got done telling them, we may have gotten beat but it didn't need to be 13 runs.”
Matt Gannon got the start for Northwestern and cruised through four innings, allowing just a two-run single to catcher Matt Byars in the top of the third. He ran into trouble again in the fifth, as he gave up back-to-back one-out doubles before he was replaced by Josh Levy.
The freshman struggled with control in the wet conditions, walking Dan Durkin to load the bases before Byars came through with his second run-scoring hit of the day. After hitting Dan Chmielewski to force in another run, Levy gave up a single to Royce Ando that extended the Spartan’s lead to four. Marty Bechina followed that up with his own two-run hit to make it 8-2.
Michigan State scored three more runs in the seventh inning and Brandon Hughes capped off the offensive outburst in the next frame when with a majestic home run off Danny Katz.
“We just have to be better with our bullpen, that's gonna be one of the main focuses [for the rest of the season,]” Allen said. “You just have to put guys in position to get outs.”
The Wildcats knocked Michigan State starter Andrew Gonzalez out of the game after the third inning, scoring runs on a Jack Dunn RBI groundout and a Joe Hoscheit single. Northwestern found less success against reliever Ethan Landon, who soaked up five innings of work and allowed three runs with five strikeouts. He managed to keep the Wildcats off-balance at the plate.
“I still felt good up there with my swing, but I just wasn't swinging at pitches I wanted to,” Hoscheit said, “and I think that goes for a lot of guys. We really have to take advantage of the free bases and today we didn't do that.”
Offensively, Northwestern only managed five hits on the day. Designated hitter Leo Kaplan led the way, with a run scoring-single in the sixth and a two-run home run in the eighth, his fourth of the year.
Northwestern will start a stretch of seven-straight road games on Tuesday, traveling to South Bend to play Notre Dame (22-23, 10-14 ACC) before a three-game set against Purdue this weekend.
“We just have to start winning series,” Hoscheit said. “We did it last weekend and not this weekend, but in order to have a chance, we need to win every series.”