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Baseball: Northwestern takes on Michigan State with Big Ten seeding critical

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Jack Dunn awaits a pitch. The sophomore infielder and the Wildcats are seeking a home series win against Michigan State this weekend.

Jack Dunn awaits a pitch. The sophomore infielder and the Wildcats are seeking a home series win against Michigan State this weekend.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Jack Dunn awaits a pitch. The sophomore infielder and the Wildcats are seeking a home series win against Michigan State this weekend.

Talia Hendel, Reporter

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Every late-season series is important. But for Northwestern, this weekend could be the key to the Big Ten Tournament as the Wildcats take on an opponent ranked just above them in conference standings: Michigan State.

“The Big Ten comes down to oftentimes the tiebreaker … so you want to have an opportunity when it comes down to those tiebreakers to anyone that you’re close with,” coach Spencer Allen said. “You want to have the advantage, so it’s a huge series.” The Cats (16-23, 5-7 Big Ten) will face the Spartans (21-16, 4-6) at Miller Park, their first action in nearly a week after Wednesday’s game against Chicago State was cancelled due to rain.

NU enters the series on somewhat of a high, having taken two of three from Penn State last weekend despite losing the finale on Sunday. Though the Cats trailed in both eventual wins, senior outfielder Joe Hoscheit said they were not concerned.

“We came back, we didn’t panic, and we were just confident we were going to win the game no matter what,” Hoscheit said.

Hoscheit led NU’s offense against the Nittany Lions. He hammered the ball consistently, tallying six RBI and three runs scored — and his second consecutive Big Ten Player of the Week Award. Despite Hoscheit’s exploits, the Cats will need their offense to revolve around more than just one player.

“We need someone else to really step up offensively,” Allen said. “We’re going to need someone else, another unsung hero to really step up and do what they’re capable of.”

On the defensive end, meanwhile, freshman pitcher Hank Christie has already stepped into a bigger role. He has assumed a role in the weekend rotation, taking the ball in each of the last five series. Against Penn State, Christie allowed only five hits against 27 batters. As for the upcoming series, he says his game plan is simple: do what he always does.

“Just bring the game back to basics,” Christie said. “Play the game the right way, and we’ll see what happens.”

Michigan State’s offense should not be taken lightly, however. The Spartans have come up big at the plate, most recently tallying 11 runs in a midweek victory against Toledo. For an NU team that has not made a Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2010, a series win against the Spartans could be a significant aid in getting back to postseason play.

“We’re playing some of the best ball we’ve played the last two years, and I feel like we’re ready for the challenge,” sophomore infielder Jack Dunn said.

The remainder of the Cats’ schedule does not get any easier, however, with each series against a trio of teams ranked above NU in the conference standings: Purdue, Maryland and Rutgers. Though the team is focusing on treating the upcoming series like any other, the weight of these games is difficult, if not impossible to ignore, Allen said.

“We just have to be ready to go this weekend,” Allen said. “Our guys, we don’t have to say a word, they know the magnitude of the game.”

Email: taliahendel2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @taliahendel

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