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Michigan State Baseball: Spartans split weekend series with Wolverines and Illini

MSU goes 2-2 against the pair of Big Ten foes in the Ann Arbor pod

Junior infielder/outfield/pitcher Zach Iverson. 
Photo credit: Jeremy Fleming

After starting the season playing over two consecutive weekends against Big Ten teams in the state of South Carolina, the Michigan State Spartans finally began play a little closer to home this past weekend. The Spartans played in their first “pod play” of the season, with two games each against the University of Illinois and two games against the University of Michigan from Saturday through Monday in Ann Arbor.

The Spartans were able to win two of the four games, however, which brings MSU’s current record to 6-6 on the season, with all games in Big Ten play.

Michigan State began play on Saturday afternoon against the Fighting Illini and the Spartans dominated from start to finish in a 11-0 shut-out victory. The Green and White jumped onto the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning with four runs. A highlight of the scoring barrage was a two-RBI triple by Spartan outfielder Zaid Walker.

Michigan State added six additional runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, including a base-clearing, three-RBI double by senior outfielder Joe Stewart. The Spartans would go on to add a final run in the bottom of the eighth to bring the total for the day to 11. MSU’s leading hitter for the day was senior outfield Bryce Kelley, who went 3-for-4 on the afternoon while also scoring two runs.

Meanwhile, Spartan pitcher Mason Erla dominated the Illini hitters, allowing only four hits and two walks over seven innings, while striking out seven Illinois batters for his second win of the season.

On Sunday, however, things did not go as well for the Spartans. In the first game, also against the Illini, it was Illinois that got onto the scoreboard early and often. Spartan senior pitcher Sam Benschoter gave up eight hits and five runs in the first three innings.

The Spartans would get onto the scoreboard with a single run in the top of the fifth inning, but the Illini would answer with two runs of their own to extend the lead to 7-1 after five frames. The Spartans would add two runs to cut the lead to 7-3, but a double play with the bases loaded, followed by a strikeout, would end the game.

Ironically, the Spartans out-hit the Illini, 12-to-10 on Saturday, including three hits from Stewart, and a pair of hits each from Walker, Kelley, and freshman infielder Mitch Jebb.

In the second game of the day, the Spartans faced the hometown No. 22 ranked Michigan Wolverines, and MSU’s bats were hot once again. The Spartans collected a total of 16 hits, including a 4-for-5 effort from Stewart and a 3-for-5 effort from Walker. After eight-and-a-half innings, the Spartans held a 7-0 lead over the No. 22 ranked Wolverines.

But, unfortunately, there was one half of an inning remaining, the Maize and Blue made the most of it. The Wolverines rallied to score eight runs to steal victory from the Spartans, 8-7, including a three-RBI double followed by a walk-off two-run home run in the final two at-bats. The win sullied the performance of freshman pitcher and two-sport star, Adam Berhorst, who gave up only three hits over 5.1 innings pitched.

In the final game of the long weekend on Monday, the Spartans once again faced the Michigan Wolverines. This time, the Spartans were able to close out the Wolverines and earn a 3-0 shut out victory.

It was a defensive battle throughout, highlighted by freshman pitcher Nick Powers, who allowed only four hits through seven innings. But, the Spartan fielders also did their job, including a dramatic tag at the plate in the fourth inning and a game ending double play in the bottom of the ninth.

On offense, the Spartans opened scoring with a pair of runs scored due to a combination of two walks, a wild pitch, a sacrifice fly, and a sacrifice ground out. MSU added an insurance run in the top of the ninth off from a home run by senior designated hitter Bailey Peterson.

Monday’s win over the Wolverine snapped a 10-game losing streak to the rivals, and was the Spartans’ first shut out win over Michigan since April of 2002.

The Spartans return to action this coming weekend with a three-game series against the Indiana Hoosiers. For the first time this year, the series will be held in the friendly confines of the McLane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field in East Lansing. The action can be followed with live stats, live audio from TCF Bank Spartan Media Network, and live streaming from Big Ten Network+ with links available at MSUSpartans.com.