Spring may seem months away still in East Lansing, but the Michigan State baseball team’s season is already underway. The Spartans started the season with a three game series against Wright State Valentine’s Day weekend in Nashville, Tennessee where they won two out of three against the Raiders. In their two victories of the series the Spartans were led by strong pitching outings. In game 1 it was Mick VanVossen who went 5 innings giving up only 1 earned run and striking out 2 batters along the way to a 4-1 victory. After dropping the second game 7-1, the Spartans salvaged the series win in a pitchers duel. Starter Justin Alleman went 6 innings and gave up 0 runs and fanned 2 batters. Closer Jeff Kinley shut the door and notched his second save of the season.
Pac 12-B1G Challenge
Michigan State held a 2-1 record heading into the Pac 12-B1G Challenge where they first battled Utah and came out with an 8-5 victory. The middle of the Spartans lineup did serious damage at the plate in the win. Right Fielder and #3 hitter Jimmy Pickens went 2-4 with 3 RBI’s. Right behind him in the lineup, Designated Hitter Blaise Salter went 2-5 and also chipped in 3 RBI’s including a 2 run homer in the 5th inning. VanVossen notched his second win of the season and Kinley earned his third save in as many chances.
Game 2 of the challenge saw a high scoring affair between the Spartans and the Beavers of Oregon State. Michigan State jumped all over Oregon State’s starting pitcher Jace Fry, scoring 4 runs on a grand slam by catcher Joel Fisher. Oregon State battled back to tie the game in the 3rd inning. After the 3rd, the game didn’t see any runs again until MSU plated one in the 8th inning on a Cam Gibson single. The Beavers responded with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning and led 7-6 heading into the 9th. MSU scored two runs- one on an error and one on a wild pitch to take the lead back 8-7 heading into the bottom half of the inning. Although the Beavers got the tying run on base, Jake Lowery was able to induce a game ending double play and earn his first victory of the season and move the Spartans to 4-1.
In their final game of the challenge the Spartans offense couldn’t get it going agains the pitching of the Washington Huskies. MSU only had four hits in the 4-1 defeat. Three unearned runs in the 2nd inning were too much to overcome and the Spartans dropped to 4-2 on the season.
Mississippi Diamond Classic
The next stop for the Spartan baseball team was Starkville, Mississippi for the Diamond Classic. Game 1 of the classic against Eastern Illinois was a 10-5 defeat in 10 innings. Starting pitcher Justin Alleman struck out five in 6.1 innings, giving up 3 runs along the way. It was the bullpen that let down Michigan State in this one. Jeff Kinley gave up 5 runs (4 earned) in 0.1 IP and Zak Wilkerson gave up 2 earned runs in 1 IP. All of these runs came in a seven run tenth inning for Eastern Illinois. A miracle rally attempt fell short in the bottom half of the 10th and the Spartans dropped their second straight game and their record fell to 4-3.
The next two games for the Spartans went against Mississippi State, who defeated them both games by scores of 4-2 and 7-1. In the first game Michigan State got a two run double by Slater the 3rd inning to give them a 2-1 lead. That would end the scoring for the Spartans in this one. It was a strong outing for VanVossen only to fall victim to another late inning collapse, pitching 7 innings, striking out 7 and giving up 2 runs. Cam Vieaux entered the game after VanVossen hit the first batter of the 8th frame and struggled to get batters out. Vieaux gave up 4 hits and 2 earned runs in his one inning of work, as the other run scored that inning was charged to VanVossen. In the second game vs Mississippi State the Spartans were blown out 7-1 and struggled in all aspects. Combine four hits for the offense, three errors by the defense and four earned runs over three innings by your starting pitcher and it’s going to be tough to win a baseball game especially against a quality opponent like the 12th ranked Bulldogs. This loss dropped the Spartans to 4-5 on the year.
In the final game of the Diamond Classic MSU once again had a high scoring affair against Eastern Illinois. This time however, the Spartans prevailed by a score of 18-13. The defense was shaky on both sides as the teams combined for five errors. The offense’s however were a completely different story with the teams combining for 38 hits. Jimmy Pickens led the Spartans at the plate with a perfect 4-4 day, with 4 runs scored and 6 RBI’s. Pickens was also walked twice. Leadoff hitter Cam Gibson chipped in 3 RBI’s of his own as well and also scored 2 runs. A seven run 7th inning spearheaded by a 3 run homer off the bat of Pickens proved to be the difference in this one. This win brought the Spartans to a .500 record of 5-5.
The Week Ahead
The Spartans will next head to Louisiana for a quick 1 game stop against Louisiana-Monroe at 7 PM ET March 5th. Then they are off to Texas to battle TCU in a 3 game series March 7th-9th.