Baseball: Northwestern slump continues after third straight series sweep, this time to Michigan State


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Senior outfielder Luke Tanner walks back to the dugout after an at-bat. The Wildcats were outscored 23-8 this weekend against Michigan State.

Lawrence Price, Sports Editor

With a chance to snap out of its conference woes and start the second half of Big Ten play on a high note, Northwestern struck out once again, getting swept by Michigan State. NU is now 0-9 in its last three conference series.

Although the first game of the series was postponed to Saturday due to inclement weather, the dismal conditions still reflected in the Wildcats’ (7-31, 3-12) performances, losing each contest to the Spartans (28-13, 10-5) by at least three runs.

Play-by-play narration isn’t needed for the unsuccessful trip to East Lansing, Michigan. Rather, here are two reasons behind their misfortunes and what the sunshine at the end of the storm looks like.

1. Bats struggle to come alive in early innings

NU scored two total runs in the first five innings of the three outings — both coming in the first game of the doubleheader Saturday.

With the Cats facing the Big Ten team that’s the toughest out at the plate, holding the conference’s best batting average at .313, two runs won’t get the job done. By the end of the weekend, Michigan State outscored NU 12-2 in the first five innings of the matches.

This problem didn’t just arise against the Spartans, though; it’s been a monkey on the Cats’ back throughout the season. From pre-conference games to the series against Nebraska and Rutgers, it’s never easy to play comfortably and freely when chasing another team from behind.

2. Starting rotation unable to find its footing on the mound

NU’s starting trio usually consists of junior right-handers Matt McClure, Luke Benneche and graduate student Michael Farinelli. However, this time around, freshman lefty Sam Garewal got the call in Game Two instead of Farinelli.

Even with the coaching staff’s decision, though, the three couldn’t fend off the Spartans’ bats, each giving up at least six hits — McClure with six, Garewal with seven and Benneche with eight. And these weren’t small spurts; Michigan State was capitalizing on opportunities with runners in scoring position. They scored 15 total runs against the trio.

Mixing the early hitting woes with the troubles on the mound summarizes the battles the team has been up against, even right after the first pitch.

3. The bright side: Series is over, another chance at Illinois-Chicago

Entering the second half of conference play and looking at the tough opponents ahead, the Cats had their work cut out for them. And the Big Ten’s second-best team in Michigan State wasn’t the opponent any team would want to face in hopes of turning things around.

However, the series is over — the pain has concluded. NU has five days until it squares off against the conference’s third-best team in Indiana on Friday.

In between, though, the Cats will travel down to Chicago on Tuesday to face UIC, whom they lost to by a score of 24-20 several weeks ago. Although it’s not a chance to redeem themselves on the Big Ten front, it is an opportunity for redemption and optimism — even one win can mean the world.

No team wants to travel down the losing path NU is currently on, but a win against the Flames may be the spark the program needs.

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