Spartan Baseball Downs Northwestern 4-2

MSU Doubles Up Northwestern, 4-2, Saturday (PHOTO:  MSU SID)
MSU Doubles Up Northwestern, 4-2, Saturday (PHOTO: MSU SID)

MSU Doubles Up Northwestern, 4-2, Saturday

Roskelly laces two-run double, while Erla, Lowery and McCauley combine to limit Wildcat bats.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State baseball doubled up Northwestern, 4-2, Saturday afternoon at Northwestern’s Miller Park, in game two of the Big Ten Conference series. The victory for MSU assured the Spartans’ their fifth-straight series win over Northwestern, as well as their second B1G series win in a row this season as part of Michigan State’s fifth Big Ten win in a row.

“I thought it was a very complete ballgame by our guys today. I thought defensively it was probably the best that we have played all year,” Spartan head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “If you look all over the field, we made plays in the outfield, those guys played great, the infielders made a lot of plays, including throwing two guys out at the plate, and we executed, turning a nice double play, and had a couple nice diving plays. It was really, really nice to see us play clean defense for the most part today. We were pretty efficient, we had a couple opportunities and took advantage of them, and ended up winning a good ballgame.”

Saturday’s victory was MSU’s fourth in the last five games overall as part of the Spartans’ seventh win in their last nine games, moving to 13-21 on the season and leveling their B1G ledger at 5-5. Northwestern slid to 9-23 overall and 1-13 in B1G play with the loss.

“When you’re winning, you feel a lot better than when you’re losing,” Boss said laughing. “Even though we weren’t playing well, going through that losing streak, and just not playing well, but towards the end of it we were playing a little bit better but not getting the rewards for it, but have had a better feeling about maybe some of the things that we happening, and starting to turn things around for us. Obviously, there’s a long way to go and lots of baseball left to be played, but we feel good about where we’re at right now and where we’re headed. I think there’s obviously still room to grow, I don’t think we’re there yet. Young guys are starting to get it a little bit and everyone is starting to feel a little bit more comfortable at the plate.”

The Spartan defense flashed the leather throughout Saturday’s game, getting nice plays in the outfield, infield and at the plate.

Senior designated hitter Chad Roskelly laced a two-run double as MSU hung a three-spot on the board in the third inning. With the double, Roskelly now has a 12-game hitting streak and a 16-game on base streak, both the longest of the season for the Spartans.

Sophomore center fielder Justin Antoncic was 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, while freshman shortstop Ryan King was also 1-for-4, adding an RBI, and senior first baseman Zack McGuire also was 1-for-4 with a run score. Freshman second baseman Zach Iverson was the fifth Spartan in the 1-for-4 club, while sophomore left fielder Bryce Kelley and junior third baseman Marty Bechina each scored a run.

On the mound, redshirt-freshman Mason Erla went 6.0 IP, holding the Wildcats to just three hits, allowing one run while walking one and striking out one. Erla got the win to improve to 5-2 on the season, leading the Spartans in wins.

“Mason battled and labored through some early struggles in the first couple innings, but in the fifth and sixth, he was really good. He had a quick one in the sixth and we thought it was a good time to turn it over to the bullpen and get him out on a positive note,” Boss said about Erla, who shut down the Wildcats in order in the fifth and sixth frames.

Erla limited the Wildcats’ bats, getting help from the defense behind him.

“I just trusted my stuff and wasn’t trying to over-throw, and just let the defense work,” Erla said. “It was very good defensive effort today, getting two guys at the plate and getting diving plays in the infield and big catches in the outfield too.”

Senior Jake Lowery came on in relief in the seventh and rang up four strikeouts in 2.0 IP with two hits and one run allowed, while junior Riley McCauley pitched the ninth, chalking up two strikeouts, to get his first save of the season and 10th of his career.

“Riley was good, he gave up the one hit there in the ninth, but what are you going to do, that’s the way the game is, it was a good pitch, but the kid did a good job of putting it in play and making something happen. That’s going to happen in baseball, but Riley had two strikeouts in the ninth, and that’s what he does. Jake was the same way with four strikeouts in two innings. I’m very pleased with both of those guys,” Boss said.

Northwestern got on the board first, pushing one across in the bottom of the second, getting runners on second and third with one out, before Ben Dickey lined a single to right center to drive in a run. The next NU batter, Leo Kaplan, tried to squeeze bunt and drive in Connor Lind, but the McGuire made a nice play charging in from first base, scooping the ball up with his glove and just shoveling it to freshman catcher Adam Proctor to tag Lind. The next Wildcat up, Casey O’Laughlin, then lined one down the left field line that sophomore left fielder Bryce Kelley ran down and snared to thwart the threat and leave two Wildcats on the basepaths, limiting score to 1-0.

The Spartans’ first deficit of the weekend was short-lived, as they plated three in the top of the third, with Bechina leading off with a walk, later moving to second on a passed ball. After a walk to Kelley, Antoncic laced an RBI single to right to plate Bechina and moved Kelley to third. Next up was Roskelly, who smashed a liner past NU third baseman Charlie Maxwell and down into the corner in left field for a double and plating Kelley and Antoncic for a 3-1 MSU advantage.

The visitors added to their lead in the sixth, stringing together three-straight singles with one out, with McGuire starting the streak, followed by Iverson, moving McGuire up to third. King followed with a suicide squeeze bunt in front of the plate and McGuire darted in to score and give the Spartans a 4-1 lead.

Northwestern got a run back in the bottom of the eighth, plating a run after a one-out single by Alex Erro to start the rally, then taking advantage of a failed pickoff attempt. After a strikeout, a single by Willie Bourbon drove Erro in and closed the gap to 4-2, before Lowery ended the threat with a flyout.

Affter MSU went down in order in the top of the ninth, McCauley came on to pitch the bottom of the frame. After a flyout to right, Dickey laced a double down the right field line, but McCauley slammed the door on any ideas of a Wildcat rally, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.

The Spartans and Wildcats wrap up the series on Sunday with a 1 p.m. ET first pitch.

MSU then faces off with Eastern Michigan at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, on Tuesday, April 24 at 6:35 p.m.

The Spartans-Eagles battle is full of coaching connections, as MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., was the head coach at EMU for one season in 2008, MSU assistant coach/pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde was head coach at EMU from 2014-17, before returning to MSU, Spartan volunteer assistant coach Jordan Keur was also an assistant at Eastern Michigan for the 2015 season under Van Ameyde after playing for him at Michigan State. EMU interim head coach Eric Roof is in his fourth season at Eastern Michigan, after serving as a volunteer assistant under Coach Boss at MSU for two seasons (2013-14), and was a three-year letterwinner at Michigan State (2007-09), playing under Coach Boss. Current EMU pitching coach A.J. Achter was also a three-year letterwinner for the Spartans (2008-10), and was teammates with Roof under Coach Boss. Achter went on to have a three-year career in Major League Baseball as part of eight years in professional baseball.

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