Nine-run fourth inning proves costly as Spartans fall to Northwestern


Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Nathan Stearns, General Assignment Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The pregame attitude for both Big Ten clubs on Friday evening could be best described as ‘’opposites attract.’’ Northwestern and Michigan State have been polar opposites for the entirety of the 2019 season.

While the Green and White would like to put this forgettable stretch of play behind them, the visitors from Evanston are currently in the midst of one of the best seasons in school history.  

BOX SCORE: Northwestern 10, MSU 4

Sporting a 16-game winning streak, an undefeated conference record and a 38-7 overall mark on the season, the Wildcats have feasted on conference opponents. In order to snap an ugly seven-game skid, the Spartans would need to be clicking on all cylinders if the had any hope of knocking off the powerhouse team from the shores of Lake Michigan.  

Despite a promising start for the Spartan crew, a disastrous fourth inning buried the host team, as they were defeated by the conference-leading visitors 10-4.

McKenna Gregory has shown the ability to be a formidable pitcher at times throughout the season, however inconsistency has plagued her quite a bit. Pitching against a lineup that featured six hitters with a batting average of .285 or above would be a good measuring stick for the young Spartan hurler.

McKenna Gregory/MSU Athletic Communications

After throwing a scoreless first, Gregory came out of the dugout for the second and retired the first two wildcat batters in order. A late two-out rally by Northwestern, combined with a misplay by Melanie Baccay, plated the first run of the game.

That would be all she wrote for the visitors however in the second, as the Spartan sophomore was able to induce a Morgan Lewis flyout to center that limited the bleeding and left the bases loaded.

Gregory did struggle a bit with her control, walking four in her first three innings, but at crucial times in the contest, she made quality pitches and induced several huge outs to keep MSU in the game.

“I loved the outings and our pitching is getting better,” head coach Jacquie Joseph said. “I would hope that the kids actually got some confidence from this game going into tomorrow’s doubleheader.”

Northwestern pitcher Kenna Wilkey was cruising through her first two innings of work, but a Charla Echols RBI double ruined what was otherwise an immaculate outing for the Wildcat ace.

Echols, who came into the game with the highest Spartan batting average (.379) on the team, continued her recent torrid pace at the dish and gave Gregory a much-deserved run to work with.

Charla Echols/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Following the common trend of the game, Northwestern was once again able to load the bases with one out. Unlike previous times, however, Gregory was unable to escape yet another jam without the Evanston visitors inflicting some major damage.

Northwestern was able to put up a nine spot in the fourth that resulted in Gregory being pulled for Leah Shipp, and later Alli Walker. After three promising innings, the Wildcats blew up the stat line of the Spartan underclassmen.

All in all, Gregory had an unremarkable stat line of 3.2 innings pitched and six earned runs. Shipp was tagged for two runs and did not record an out.

“If we don’t make any errors, we win 4-3,” Joseph said.” I think we’re not far away. I think when you play a great team like Northwestern, you cannot give them opportunities, and we gave them a big inning and that was the difference in the game.”

After allowing three runs early, Wilkey was able to settle down and pitch a complete game, which in essence allowed the Northwestern bullpen to receive an off night.

The lone bright spot of the night for the Green and White was Mackenzie Meech, who tied a career high with three hits.

MSU got two runs back in the bottom of the fourth, but in the end, Northwestern was able to easily cruise to yet another conference win that extended their winning streak to 17 games.

With the loss at the hands of the Wildcats, the Spartans dropped to 15-30 overall and 3-14 in conference play. Gregory’s record dropped to 4-12 and MSU’s losing streak has now reached eight games.

Despite learning a hard lesson at the hands of Northwestern, MSU will have a chance to spoil the flawless conference record of these Wildcats when they square off again tomorrow afternoon at noon as part of a day/afternoon doubleheader. The second game of the doubleheader will occur after the conclusion of game one.