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Michigan State Baseball: Spartans win two of three versus Minnesota

Offense was on the menu in Minneapolis this weekend

Spartan right-fielder Zaid Walker
Courtesy of Michigan State Athletic Communications.

Coming into the weekend, the 7-8 Michigan State Spartans had just faced two of the best teams in the Big Ten in the Michigan Wolverines and the Indiana Hoosiers. On paper, the opponent this weekend, the last-place Minnesota Golden Gophers, seemed like a more manageable opponent.

While the Spartans did manage to win two of the three games in Minneapolis, and were just one out away from a sweep, the Green and White needed a pair of furious comebacks to secure the two wins that they did earn in what turned out to be a wild series.

On Friday evening, the Spartans got on the board first with an RBI-double from sophomore first-baseman Brock Vrandenburg in the top of the third inning. However, a three-hit, four-run fourth inning by the Gophers left the Spartans trailing 4-1. Minnesota would add an additional run in the bottom of the fifth inning to bring the score to 5-1.

Then, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Spartans would rally. The scoring started when senior center fielder Joe Stewart reached home plate on a wild pitch with the bases loaded. MSU then put up three more runs on a pair of doubles from the bats of freshman shortstop Mitch Jebb and freshman second baseman Trent Farquhar to even the score at five runs apiece.

The score remained tied until the top of the seventh inning, when the Gophers put up a single run on an infield single RBI. In the top of the eighth inning, however, the Spartans tied the score once again on a sacrifice fly ball from senior left-fielder Bryce Kelley.

With the score tied at 6-6 in the top of the ninth, the stage was set for more heroics, this time by Spartan sophomore right-fielder Zaid Walker. Walker led off with a walk and then proceed to steal both second base and then third base. Walker then scored what would be the game-winning run off from a fielder’s choice from freshman designated hitter Jack Frank.

Spartan sophomore relief pitcher Burrell Jones retired the side in the bottom on the ninth to secure the win, 7-6, his first in a Spartan uniform.

In game two of the weekend on Saturday, things did not go quite so well for the Spartans in Minneapolis. The Gophers drew first blood with a single run in the bottom of the third, but the Spartans soon took the lead, thanks to a three-run fourth inning, which was jump started by a solo home run from Stewart, his third of year.

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Gophers countered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth to regain the lead, 4-to-3. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Minnesota would add three more runs to extend the lead to 7-3.

But, the Spartan batters were not finished yet. In the top of the sixth inning, sophomore pinch hitter Peter Ahn hit a two-RBI triple to trim to lead to 7-5. This score would remain until a dramatic ninth inning.

The top of the ninth opened with Kelley reaching first base after being hit by a pitch, followed by a walk to Stewart. Frank, the designated hitter, then had an infield single, followed by a double from Walker, which combined drove in three runs to give the Spartans an 8-7 lead. Yet another double from freshman catcher Gabe Sotres would score Walker and extend to Spartan lead to 9-7 going into the bottom of the ninth inning.

But, this time the Spartans were unable to hang onto the lead. Sophomore relief pitcher Burrell Jones gave up a single, but also retired two Gopher batters to put the Spartans on the doorstep of the victory. But, a double placed the tying run on second base, which prompted Spartan Hhead coach Jake Boss Jr. to go to his bullpen again.

Redshirt freshman pitcher William Christophersen was inserted into the game, but gave up a game-tying single to the next Gopher batter. After a walk, Minnesota then ended the game on a walk-off single to left field. The Spartans had a total of 12 hits on the afternoon, and senior outfielder Bryce Kelley tied the MSU career record in stolen bases with 79. But, the Spartan pitchers gave up 18 hits while the Spartan defense committed three errors.

On Sunday, the Spartans did not get off to a good start. Michigan State gave up three run off of five Gopher hits in the bottom on the first inning. Minnesota would add two more runs in the second inning, and then two more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a commanding 7-0 lead.

As the Spartans went to bat in the top of the sixth, they had yet to get a hit and only two Spartans had even reached a base. Finally, Vrandenburg jump-started the Spartan comeback with a lead-off double to left center. He would later score the Spartans’ first run off of a sacrifice fly by Farquhar a few batters later.

In the top of the seventh inning, the Spartans added three more runs to draw closer at 7-4. The scoring in the seventh inning was highlighted by an RBI-double by Jebb, followed by a two-RBI single by junior third-baseman/pitcher Zach Iverson with the next at bat.

Then, in the top of the eighth inning, the Spartans took the lead for good. The final decisive rally started with another sacrifice fly, this time by Stewart. Then, with two outs, the Spartan batters managed a trio of singles and a walk to tie the score at seven all.

Finally, it was the patience of the Spartans coupled with struggles from the Gophers on the pitching mound that won the day. With the bases loaded, Minnesota pitchers walked a total of three consecutive Spartan batters to drive the MSU lead to 10-7.

The Spartan bullpen did have to stave off a potential rally from the Gophers in the bottom of the eight inning. But, Minnesota flied out with the bases loaded to end the inning and the final scoring chance of the afternoon. Sophomore reliever Wyatt Rush earned with win, the first of his career, while Zach Iverson earned the save, his fourth on the season.

With the 2-1 series win, the Spartans’ record now stands at an even 9-9, which is tied with Iowa for seventh place in Big Ten play. Michigan State returns to play next weekend with a Friday-through-Monday four game home “pod” series with two games each against Penn State (6-11) and Purdue (4-13), both of whom are looking up at the Spartans in the current Big Ten standings.

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.