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Michigan State Baseball: Spartans swept by Illinois and Purdue over the weekend

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In pod play in Champaign, Illinois, the Spartans went 0-4 to fall to 11-15 overall, despite standout performances from first baseman Bailey Peterson and pitcher Mason Erla.

Spartan junior first-baseman Bailey Peterson’s two solo home runs were not enough to propel MSU to victory this weekend
Courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications.

Coming into the weekend, Michigan State University’s baseball team was sitting at .500 in Big Ten play with a chance to move up in the standings with a pair of games against both the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Purdue Boilermakers in Champaign, Illinois. But, the Spartans failed to earn even a single win in the four games.

In game one on Friday night in Champaign, the Spartans got off to a good start. With one out in the top of the first inning, the Spartans strung together three consecutive singles from senior left fielder Bryce Kelly, senior center fielder Joe Stewart, and sophomore right fielder Zaid Walker.

Freshman short stop Mitch Jebb then reached base due to an Illini throwing error. This combination of plays put the Spartans up 2-0 before the home team even came up to bat.

Illinois cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first inning, but the Spartan batters would strike again in the top of the second. With the bases loaded, Walker singled up the middle to score two Spartans and extend MSU’s lead to 4-1.

Unfortunately, the Spartans would not score again for the rest of the evening, but the Illini were not close to being finished. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Illinois would add a run to cut the lead in half, 4-2. Then, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the dam broke.

Illinois’ rally started when Spartan starting right-handed pitcher, senior Sam Benschoter, walked two of the first three batters in the inning. Michigan State head coach Jake Boss decided to go to his bullpen with sophomore right-hander Wyatt Rush. But, Rush proceeded to walk the next two batters, putting Illinois’ third run of the day onto the board. Boss went to the bullpen again, this time for sophomore right-hander Burrell Jones, but he gave up three consecutive hits, which resulted in a 7-4 lead for the hometown Illini.

Illinois would go on to add runs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth inning to win by a final score of 13-to-4. Spartan pitchers gave up a total of 16 hits on the evening and Wyatt Rush was credited with his first loss of the season.

On Saturday, the Spartans faced the Illini again in the first half of a split doubleheader. Just like Friday night, the Green and White got on the board first with two runs in the top of the first inning. Spartan lead-off hitter, freshman second baseman Trent Farquhar, was hit by a pitch and then Bryce Kelley walked to put two men on base.

Farquhar advanced to third base on a fielders choice and then was able to score on an RBI sacrifice fly by Walker. An RBI single from Jebb pushed the early Spartan lead to 2-0. Illinois would once again cut the lead in the half in the team’s first at-bat, however, off an RBI single to left field to bring the score to 2-1.

The Spartans’ lead would be short-lived, however, as an error by Walker on a routine fly ball in right field allowed two Illini base-runners to score in the bottom of the second to give the home team a 3-2 lead that it would not relinquish.

MSU stayed within striking distance until a three-hit, four-run fifth inning by the Illini pushed the lead to 7-2 and chased Spartan freshman left-handed starting pitcher Nick Powers from the mound in favor of freshman right-handed reliever Dominic Hann. Unlike Friday, however, the Spartan did mount several mini-rallies late in the game.

In the top of the sixth inning, the Spartan closed the gap with a pair of runs catalyzed by a Walker double to bring the score to 7-4. In the top of the seventh inning, it was a double from senior first baseman Bailey Peterson that lead to another run, further cutting the lead down to 7-5.

But, unfortunately, Illinois was not done scoring either. After the seventh-inning stretch, the Illinois put up six runs on three hits, five walks, and a Spartan error from freshman right-handed pitcher Adam Berghorst and then freshman left-hander Zach Hopman to up the lead to 13-5.

The Spartans got two runs back in the top of the eighth inning, only to give those two runs right back in the bottom of the eighth to bring the score to 15-7. MSU did plate one more run in the top of the ninth inning, but it was too little, too late.

While the Spartans did manage 11 hits and eight runs, they committed four errors, gave up 15 hits, and 15 runs. Starting pitcher Nick Powers (3-2) was credited with the loss.

Two hours later, the Spartans would take to the field again in Champaign, this time facing the Purdue Boilermakers. In contrast to the first two games of the weekend for Michigan State, the late game on Saturday was a pitchers’ battle. Through four innings, both teams combined for just three hits in a scoreless game.

In the top of the fifth inning, the Spartans would once again draw first blood. Peterson doubled to center field and then advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore pinch hitter Casey Mayes. Peterson then scored on an RBI sacrifice fly by junior third-baseman Zach Iverson.

The score would remain 1-0 until Purdue came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning. Spartan head coach Jake Boss brought Iverson from third base to the pitcher’s mound in an attempt to close out the Boilermakers. However, a pair of Purdue singles, followed by sacrifice ground-out gave Purdue the tying run and forced the game into extra innings.

The teams played two scoreless innings until the bottom of the 11th inning, when a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly gave Purdue the walk-off win, 2-1. Iverson earned his second loss of the year in a game where the Spartans managed just five hits over eleven innings.

The loss overshadowed a fine performance from junior right-handed starting pitcher Mason Erla, who allowed no runs and just four hits over eight innings. Erla also racked up six strikeouts to bring his career total to 208, moving him to No. 4 on Michigan State’s all-time strikeout list.

On Sunday afternoon, the Spartan once again faced Purdue in the weekend finale. For the first time all weekend, the Spartans’ opponent scored first as Purdue put up a single run in top of the second inning off of a walk, a steal, and an RBI single from the Boilermakers. The Spartans would then tie the score, 1-1, in the top of the third inning off of a home run from the bat of Peterson.

But, a two-out rally from Purdue in the fourth inning, including a consecutive double, single, and triple gave the Boilermakers a 4-1 lead. The scoreboard would remain stuck on these numbers until the bottom of eighth inning, when the Spartans staged a mini-rally.

The rally kicked off with another lead-off home run from Peterson, followed by back-to-back singles from Iverson and freshman catcher Gabe Sortes. A sacrifice bunt from Farquhar would advance the base-runners to second and third base. Iverson then scored on a Purdue throwing error to cut the lead to 4-3.

The Spartans then loaded the bases with two outs, but a ground out from Jebb ended the inning and the MSU threat. In the top of the ninth inning, Purdue used walk, a stolen base, and batter hit by a pitch, along with a pair of singles, to extend the lead to 8-3 and put the game effectively out of reach.

The Spartans would go one-two-three in the bottom of the ninth to end the game, and give Michigan State its fourth loss of the weekend. Spartan starting junior left-handed pitcher Jesse Heikkinen earned the loss through just four innings of work on the mound.

The weekend sweep drops the Spartans’ record to 11-15 overall in the Big Ten-only 2021 season. That record puts MSU into ninth place in the conference, still ahead of Illinois (9-12) and behind a log-jam of teams all with 12 losses (Maryland, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Rutgers).

MSU will return home to lick their wounds amidst the current five-game losing streak. But, the schedule does not get any easier. The Spartans return to action starting this Friday with a three-game home series against the first-place Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-6).

Friday night’s game can be seen on Big Ten Network, with the first pitch scheduled for just after 5:00 p.m. EDT. The action can also be followed with live stats, and live audio from TCF Bank Spartan Media Network. The Saturday and Sunday games can also be followed via a live stream from Big Ten Network+ with links available at MSUSpartans.com.