Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sluggers ready for Northwestern

April 5, 2002

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 doesn’t indicate nearly how good they are,” Spartan manager Tom Mahan said. “If we don’t play well, they’re a team that can beat us. It’s 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 year’s results taught the Spartans not to underestimate the Wildcats.

“They’re a very good team, there’s 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 doesn’t rely on the long ball, so they don’t look impressive. But he said the Wildcats are good hitters.

“They’re more of a team that’s going to pepper you,” McCuiston said. “They’re going to hit the ball and put the ball in play. So we’re just going to have to be prepared because I think they’re 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 don’t 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 Northwestern’s strength may not be its hitting, but said its pitching makes up the difference.

“They have some good pitchers,” Malek said. “So we’re going to have to come and play and have some good at bats up there.”

McCuiston said the Wildcats don’t have a standout ace in their pitching staff. But he said the entire staff is solid.

“They don’t have a dominant starter but they are going to throw a guy who’s going to get the job done,” he said. “He’s going to throw strikes and get the job done and he’s 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 Sunday’s game.

“It all depends on who’s available, who’s left, how many games they’ve won, how their left-handed hitters are hitting and all that good stuff,” Mahan said. “There are a lot of factors. We just don’t have a No. 4 guy yet that has stood out to get that start.

“So as of now, we just don’t know who’s pitching.”

Regardless of who’s 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 we’re excited to play and hopefully we’ll get the job done this weekend, with the long ball helping us out.”

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