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Baseball: Wildcats record historic grand slam string and walk-off in series win over MSU

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Three grand slams, three batters, three innings.

It was a memorable weekend for Northwestern, who traveled to Greenville, South Carolina to play a four-game series against the Michigan State Spartans. The Wildcats hit six home runs, including a historic set of grand slams in the series’ opener and a walk-off in its finale to win three of their four contests down South.

While each of NU’s three wins will count the same towards their record, the first will ultimately be remembered far more than any other, and not without reason. The Spartans actually struck first, scoring a run in the top of the first on a throwing error. When it came time for the Wildcats to hit, though, they immediately started doing damage, loading the bases for second baseman Vincent Bianchina. The Lafayette, California native capitalized, homering and driving in four runs in the process to give the ‘Cats a 4-1 lead.

Things started to seem atypical, though, when, in the second inning, the Wildcats loaded the bases once more, this time for designated hitter Stephen Hrustich, who followed suit with a grand slam of his own, extending Northwestern’s lead to 8-1.

The grand slams in back-to-back innings would be newsworthy enough. But you could sense that things were headed beyond notable to the truly extraordinary when the bases were loaded once again in the bottom of the third for catcher Mike Trautwein.

If it wasn’t already obvious, Trautwein fell in line and homered to right.

Three is the record for most grand slams in a single game by a team in NCAA history. Only eight teams had accomplished such a task in the 50 years of Division I Baseball for which the NCAA has kept recorded stats before the Wildcats did so on Friday. The last time a DI college team hit three grand slams in three consecutive innings was Arizona State against Southern Utah on February 25, 2000. There are many writers on Inside NU’s staff — myself included — that were not alive the last time such an occurrence took place. And it’s not clear if a team has ever hit a grand slam in each of the first three innings of an NCAA game.

Michigan State would later score another run. It wouldn’t come close to mattering. Northwestern won, 14-2.

The next day, the two teams met again for a doubleheader. In the first leg, the Northwestern bats weren’t quite as loud as they were a day earlier, and the Wildcats brought in only four runs, hitting a relatively measly one home run in the process. Still, NU’s pitchers, led by starter Quinn Lavelle, who threw five innings while allowing only two hits and one run, held the Spartans to the same low total of two runs as they had the day before. At the end of the shortened seven-inning affair, the Wildcats had earned their second victory of the series, this time with a final score of 4-2.

Perhaps upset about the historic drubbing they had been dealt the day prior and their lack of offensive performance in the subsequent game, Michigan State unleashed an offensive assault on Northwestern in the second leg of the doubleheader. NU head coach Spencer Allen threw four different pitchers, all of which allowed at least one and at most four runs to the Spartans. The Wildcats couldn’t nearly keep up offensively and fell, 12-3.

In the series finale, the Wildcats got out to an early 3-0 lead on the back of an RBI double from first baseman Anthony Calarco and a two-run homer by Hrustic in the third. However, the Spartans clawed back, scoring five unanswered runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. It was then that shortstop Shawn Goosenberg stepped up and almost single-handedly propelled the ‘Cats to victory. He first doubled in the bottom of the seventh to draw NU within one run, and later hit a towering three-run blast over Fluor Field’s Green Monster to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth.

The ‘Cats now sit at 5-3, which ties them for third in the Big Ten alongside Nebraska and Ohio State. They’re hitting for a team batting average of .301, which leads the conference. They’ll next head back to US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where they opened their season against Penn State on March 20, this time to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers.