EVANSTON, Ill. — Michigan State (12-21, 4-5), playing some of their best baseball of the season, met Northwestern (9-22, 1-12) in Evanston, IL for the first of a three-game series. The Wildcats were on the opposite side of the spectrum, playing through a rough ten-game stretch, winning just one of those contests coming into Friday. MSU’s solid play continued, as a first-inning offensive explosion lifted the Spartans to a 5-3 victory at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.
The MSU offense tagged Wildcats freshman starter Quinn Lavelle with their five runs in the first. Bryce Kelley and Justin Antoncic reached to start the game and scored on a Chad Roskelly base hit. Zack McGuire quickly drove in Roskelly with a home run over Northwestern’s ‘Koldyke Field’ sign in left – his fourth of the year, tying Marty Bechina for the team lead. Ryan King reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on Adam Proctor’s double to left.
Northwestern scored their first runs in the second, posting two runs on MSU starter Ethan Landon. The Wildcats’ Ben Dickey singled home Charlie Maxwell to start the NU scoring. Connor Lind scored the second via passed ball later in the inning. Landon escaped the frame leaving two stranded.
The Wildcats tacked on a run in the fourth with a two-out bloop single that fell between Landon and second baseman Antoncic. Lind came across to close the lead 5-3. Dickey followed Lind but was thrown out by Antoncic.
Pitching from both sides shut down offenses after the fourth inning. Only three hits between the two teams came after that inning – no runs were scored.
Landon started in place of Riley McCauley, who has been labeled the ‘Friday starter.’
“He was our Saturday guy, and we moved our Friday guy to the bullpen,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “So, it was kind of easy at that point. Ethan’s a guy that throws strikes – throws a lot of strikes. There are times where the breaking ball is – and even today – I thought he left the breaking ball up a little bit and got hurt because of it. But he’s a competitor and he’s a guy our young guys – if they pay attention – they can learn a lot from.”
He surrendered three runs; two earned. He struck out eight Wildcats – one short of his season-high of nine. He finished with more than 100 pitches for the fourth time this season.
“That’s what we need out of our Friday guy,” Boss Jr. said. “That’s why we made the switch. Not that we couldn’t rely on Riley, but we really like Riley at the back end of the bullpen. And so, he was the next guy up. He’s been throwing well. Really kind of bounced back from a tough year last year, but he’s doing what a fifth-year senior should do.”
Kelley swiped his 24th bag of the year. With that, he inched closer to all-time MSU stolen base leader Brandon Hughes. Hughes set the Spartan record a year ago with 30 steals.
Spartan runners stole five bases on the evening; one by Kelley, and two by Antoncic and Gleaves. Four bags were swiped off a lefty pitcher.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” Boss Jr. said. “We got some guys that have – not only pretty good speed but they’re good baserunners and they know what they’re looking for. They’re able to lock-in in certain tendencies and pick the right pitches to run on.”
With MSU’s first-inning outburst, they drop Northwestern’s record to 0-8 when an opponent scores in the first; 0-14 when an opponent scores the first run of the game.
WP – Ethan Landon (2-5; 7 IP, 3 R, 7 H, 8 K)
LP – Quinn Lavelle (3-5; 5 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 3 K)
SV – Mitchell Tyranski (2)
MSU has won six of eight and will try to improve that stretch, while Northwestern tries to end their five-game skid in game two, on Saturday, April 21. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. EST; 2 p.m. CST from Koldyke Field at Rocky and Bernice Miller Park. MSU sends Mason Erla (4-2) to the mound against Hank Christie (2-3).