As the MSU baseball team returns to Big Ten action, it expects better results.
After splitting its first conferences series with Minnesota 2-2, the Spartans (17-5 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) are looking for a better performance at Northwestern.
The Wildcats (7-13, 1-3) host the first of a four-game series 3 p.m. today at Rocky Miller Park in Evanston, Ill. The two teams square off in a doubleheader on Saturday with the series finale on Sunday.
They are just like Minnesota - their record doesnt indicate nearly how good they are, Spartan manager Tom Mahan said. If we dont play well, theyre a team that can beat us. Its the same team we played last year and we played them (at home).
A year ago, the Spartans split the four-game series at Kobs Field. Northwestern won its games by scores of 8-4 and 11-5, while MSU won with scores of 7-6 and 6-2.
Senior center fielder Chris McCuiston said last years results taught the Spartans not to underestimate the Wildcats.
Theyre a very good team, theres no doubt about that, McCuiston said. They can go out and take four games from any team in this league very easily.
McCuiston said Northwestern doesnt rely on the long ball, so they dont look impressive. But he said the Wildcats are good hitters.
Theyre more of a team thats going to pepper you, McCuiston said. Theyre going to hit the ball and put the ball in play. So were just going to have to be prepared because I think theyre going to come out and hit the ball against us.
Outfielder Steve Haake leads Northwestern with 31 hits and a .365 batting average. But as a team, the Wildcats are hitting .265, well below the Spartans .362 average.
They are a lot like they were when we played them last year - they dont have any guys that stand out, Mahan said. But they have some good hitters and some very good left-handed hitters.
Junior right fielder Bob Malek said Northwesterns strength may not be its hitting, but said its pitching makes up the difference.
They have some good pitchers, Malek said. So were going to have to come and play and have some good at bats up there.
McCuiston said the Wildcats dont have a standout ace in their pitching staff. But he said the entire staff is solid.
They dont have a dominant starter but they are going to throw a guy whos going to get the job done, he said. Hes going to throw strikes and get the job done and hes going to try and challenge us.
The Spartans have three right handers scheduled to throw this weekend, sophomore Bryan Gale (3-1), senior Nick Bates (6-0) and freshman Tim Day (4-1). Mahan has yet to pick a starter for Sundays game.
It all depends on whos available, whos left, how many games theyve won, how their left-handed hitters are hitting and all that good stuff, Mahan said. There are a lot of factors. We just dont have a No. 4 guy yet that has stood out to get that start.
So as of now, we just dont know whos pitching.
Regardless of whos pitching, Malek said playing in Evanston definitely gives Northwestern the advantage. He added the Spartans hope to put some home runs on the board to quite the crowd.
I think the road team always has a disadvantage because the home team has familiar surroundings and they know how the ball plays in their own ballpark, Malek said. But I know were excited to play and hopefully well get the job done this weekend, with the long ball helping us out.