By Tino Abarca
EVANSTON, Ill.– Heavy B1G tournament implications lay upon the three-game weekend series between Northwestern and Michigan State. The Spartans (22-17 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) and Wildcats (17-24 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) were tied for ninth in the conference standings coming into play. The two squared off in a doubleheader Friday afternoon at Koldyke Field at Miller Park, splitting the pair, 8-1 and 3-2.
Alex Troop (6-3) took the ball in Game 1, as he tried to bounce back from his last outing against Maryland, where he allowed 11 runs on 10 hits in only four innings of work. Friday’s outing would be significantly different. Troop allowed just one run on five hits, striking out four in his seven inning performance.
The Wildcats tallied a run in the bottom of the first against Alex Troop. The Chicagoland native allowed a double down the left field line to leadoff hitter Alex Erro. A sacrifice bunt advanced Erro to third, followed by a Joe Hoscheit sacrifice fly to plate the runner, making it 1-0 Wildcats.
The Spartans couldn’t muster up much against Wildcats starter Cooper Weatherbee in the early portion of the game. Their first threat came in the top half of the fifth. A hit by pitch and single put runners on first and second, but three straight strikeouts by the 7-8-9 hitters ended the rally.
The Spartans ended their scoring drought with an infield single by Bryce Kelley to begin the sixth. An error by Wildcats shortstop Jack Dunn allowed Brandon Hughes to reach. Dan Durkin dropped down a well-placed sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third. This knocked Weatherbee out of the game for reliever Pete Hofman. After a strikeout by Matt Byars, a passed ball scored Kelley from third. On the next Hofman offering, Chad Roskelly hit a monstrous home run over the left field wall. His second homer of the year made it 3-1 in favor of the Spartans.
Insurance runs were tacked on in the later portion of the game. Roskelly followed up his homer by ripping a single up the middle to score Durkin and extended the lead to 4-1. In the following inning, Kelley scored Bechina on a suicide squeeze. Two RBI hits and a home run by Byars plated three more Spartans, widening the lead to 8-1.
Borkovich worked two innings in relief, allowing only one base runner. He closed the door on the Wildcats offense in the ninth to secure a Game 1 victory for MSU.
Coach Jake Boss Jr. gave Jake Lowery the start, his first of the season and first since his freshman season.
The Wildcats were again the first to plate a run, and they did so in the fourth. Capitalizing off a Royce Ando error, Hoscheit reached, then Matt Hopfner drew a walk immediately after. Both came around to score with a Jack Claeys single to left.
The Spartans offense didn’t respond until the sixth. Brandon Hughes started the rally with a single to left center. Durkin and Byars walked to load the bases, but they were only able to push one across with a Roskelly sacrifice fly.
On the comeback trail, the Spartans tied the game in the seventh. Dan Chmielewski singled to lead off the frame and stopped at third on a Bechina double. The inning looked promising as two runners were in scoring position with nobody out. An RBI ground out, sandwiched by two fly outs, only plated one, knotted up the score at 2-2.
Erro started the bottom of the eighth with a single, then came around to score on a single by Matt Hopfner, regaining the lead, 3-2. The run was charged to Joe Mockbee, who pitched in relief of Lowery. Mockbee fell to 4-3 and was given the loss.
Chemielewski started the Spartans’ ninth with a single, but two fly outs and a strikeout retired the side and concluded the contest.
Sam Lawrence threw the final 3 2/3 innings for the Wildcats and was awarded the win, improving to 2-1.
The series finale and rubber match will be Saturday. Juniors Andrew Gonzalez and Matt Gannon will get the start for MSU and NU, respectively. First pitch is set for 12 p.m. CT, 1 p.m. ET.