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Michigan State Baseball: Spartans swept by Iowa in season finale

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The 2021 baseball season ended with a whimper instead of a bang

Photo by Rey Del Rio / MSU Athletic Communications

Coming into the final series of the 2021 Big Ten baseball season against the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Michigan State Spartans had momentum. The Spartans had won five of the previous seven games, and the offense was rolling. MSU had already beaten every Big Ten team that they had faced at least once.

But, momentum does not last forever, and Michigan State’s season ended on a sour note. The Spartans were swept by Iowa, including on Sunday’s Senior Day.

On Friday evening, the Hawkeyes got onto the board first in the top of the third inning, thanks to an RBI double to take the early 1-0 lead. Then, in the top of the fourth inning, the Hawkeyes peppered Spartan starting right-handed pitcher, junior Mason Erla, with four singles, including a two-RBI single with the bases loaded to extend the lead to 3-0.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Spartans were able to strike back, at least a little. Freshman short stop Mitch Jebb opened the inning with a double down the right field line. A few batters later, senior designated hitter Andrew Morrow hit an RBI single to center field to trim the lead down to 3-1 with one out. However, the next batter, junior catcher Adam Proctor, hit into a double play to end the rally.

Unfortunately for the Green and White, that was all of the scoring that they would manage for the day. Iowa hit another RBI single in the top of the sixth inning to extend the lead to 4-1.

Then in the top of the eighth inning, the Hawkeyes jumped all over the Spartan bullpen to the tune of eight total runs off of only two hits, but an unbelievable nine walks and a wild pitch from four different relievers. When the dust settled, it was 12-1, which ended up as the final score.

The Spartans managed a total of eight hits on the evening, but they were scattered throughout the game such that MSU never had more than two hits in any inning. Starting pitcher Mason Erla (5-6) was credited with the loss.

On Saturday, the Big Ten Network was in town for a nationally televised game at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field in East Lansing, and the Spartans got off to a better start.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Spartans opened the inning with a single from freshman catcher Gabe Sortes. The next two batters, freshman second baseman Trent Farquhar and sophomore third baseman Reese Trahey both laid down bunts simply in an attempt to advance base runners, but both reached base safely. As a result, the bases were loaded with no outs.

Next up was sophomore right fielder Zaid Walker, who hit an infield single to score the first run of the game. Following a strike out to senior center fielder Joe Stewart, freshman short stop Mitch Jebb hit a two-RBI single to right field, scoring Farquhar and Trahey. Then, a sacrifice ground out by senior first baseman Bailey Peterson scored Walker to bring the Spartan lead to 4-0.

The Spartans held this margin until the top of the fifth inning. The Hawkeyes opened the inning with a pair of doubles that scored a run, followed by a wild pitch that scored a second run. Spartan pitchers then walked three consecutive Hawkeyes to score a third run, making the score 4-3.

In the top of the sixth inning, Iowa took the lead thanks to a two-RBI double which made the score 5-4. From this point on, the Iowa pitchers and defense clamped down on the Spartans. MSU managed only one base runner total in the bottom of sixth and seventh innings and that was due to a walk.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Spartans had a chance to tie or even regain the lead. MSU had runners at first and second base due to walks. With two outs, sophomore pinch hitter Casey Mayes hit a single to right field and senior left fielder Bryce Kelley attempted to tie the game from second base. But, he was thrown out at home plate to end the inning and the rally with the Spartans still down by a run.

In the top of the ninth inning, Iowa added two more runs thanks to a single, a walk, a throwing error, a passed ball, and then a sacrifice bunt to bring the score to 7-4. The Spartans proceeded to go down one-two-three in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.

Michigan State tallied eight total hits, but five of them came in the four-run third inning. The Spartans struggled to generate offense the rest of the afternoon. Spartan sophomore right-handed relief pitcher Burrell Jones (2-2) was credited with the loss after only 1.2 innings of work, mostly in the sixth inning, where he gave up two runs off from two hits to surrender the Spartan lead.

Sunday was Senior Day at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, and prior to the game a total of seven senior players were honored: Sam Benschoter (right-handed pitcher), Trevor Hopman (reserve third baseman and engineering student), Bryce Kelley (left fielder), Andrew Morrow (designated hitter), Jarret Olson (left-handed pitcher), Bailey Peterson (first baseman), and Joe Stewart (center fielder).

In addition, senior manager Scott Newhard, and three seniors from 2020: Caleb Sleeman, Danny Gieselman, and Justin Antoncic were also honored. During the pregame ceremony, one family member of each senior player threw out the ceremonial first pitch to their senior.

Unfortunately, the Senior Day ceremony was the highlight of the afternoon for the Spartans. In the first inning, senior starting pitcher Jarret Olson hit three of the first four Iowa batters to load the bases. Then, a sacrifice fly ball scored the first run of the day. Olson made his first start of the season after being unavailable most of the year with an injury.

The Spartans managed to tally a pair of singles in the bottom of both the first and second inning, but no Spartan managed to cross home plate. Then, in the top of the third inning, MSU’s Senior Day went off of the rails.

MSU senior relief pitcher Sam Benschoter walked an Iowa batter and hit three others with errant pitches to load the bases and force in a run. Then, Iowa proceeded to put up three doubles, a triple, and a single. By the time the inning ended on a foul out, Iowa had scored nine runs, extending their lead to 10-0.

The Spartans never seriously threatened from that point forward. MSU got one run back in the bottom of the third inning thanks to an RBI double from the bat of senior Bailey Peterson. But, Iowa countered with an RBI single in the top of the fifth inning to make the score 11-1.

Senior Joe Stewart hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning, and senior Bryce Kelley scored another run in the bottom of the sixth inning off from the bat of Reese Trahey to make the score 11-3. But, the Spartans managed just one more hit in the final three innings, and 11-3 was the final score.

While several Spartan seniors did have some positive moments on Sunday, the loss dropped the Spartans final record to 17-27 overall. Senior pitcher Jarret Olson (0-1) was credited with the loss, his first of the year.

Following the game, MSU Head Coach Jake Boss said, “It’s always a bittersweet day, we thank our seniors for all their hard work and how they’ve represented our program, it’s always tough to say goodbye to a great group of kids who work their tails off in the field, in the classroom and like I said, I think they’ve really represented our program in a first class way.”

With no Big Ten tournament this year, the Spartans season is now finished. MSU finished the Big Ten season in twelfth place, only ahead of Minnesota (5-31) in the 13-team league (as Wisconsin has not participated in Big Ten baseball since 1991).

Nebraska (31-12) won the Big Ten regular season title and therefore has earned a spot in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Second place Maryland (28-16) and third place Michigan (27-17) are also expected to make the field of 64 teams, while fourth place Indiana (26-18) and Iowa (26-18) are both squarely on the bubble. The NCAA Tournament field will be announced on Memorial Day at noon and the tournament will begin on Friday, June 4.

[UPDATE, Monday, May 31 at noon] The NCAA Baseball Tournament bracket has been announced. Nebraska was placed as the No. 2 team in the same regional as the overall No. 1 seed, Arkansas (ouch...) Michigan is the No. 3 team playing in the same regional as the No. 10 overall seed, Notre Dame. Maryland is the No. 3 team playing in the region of the No. 13 overall seed, East Carolina. Indiana and Iowa did not make the field, as expected.

As for Michigan State, the off-season is upon us. With the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully in its final stages, Big Ten baseball is expected to return to a more normal schedule in 2022. See you in February. As always, Go Green.