Indiana weekend sweep spurs confidence for MSU
Jimmy Pickens couldn’t stop smiling.
With a line of eager autograph seekers waiting behind him, it’s tough to blame the sophomore outfielder who had the weekend of his life.
Pickens was the catalyst of two walk-off victories in a three-game weekend sweep of No. 12 Indiana at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field. The sweep signals the first series sweep against a ranked opponent under MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., and moves the Spartans (21-11 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) closer to a chance at a Big Ten championship.
“It’s great for the team, it’s great for the momentum going into Toledo this week with Comerica on Wednesday against Central and a big weekend in Minnesota,” Pickens said. “You’ve got to win an away series for a shot at a Big Ten title, and we got back in the race this weekend after a disappointing weekend last weekend.
“We’ve got a shot now.”
Taking three victories from the first-place Hoosiers moves the Spartans into a tie for sixth in the Big Ten with Illinois (22-10, 5-4). With 22 games remaining — including 15 against Big Ten opponents — the Spartans have a realistic shot at a conference crown if their play continues.
However, the task will be challenging with the loss of senior outfielder Jordan Keur from the lineup. During Friday’s game, Keur tore his left Achilles’ tendon while rounding first base, effectively ending his MSU playing career as he isn’t expected to recover for at least six months.
At the time of the injury, Keur was MSU’s second-leading hitter with a .337 average to go along with one home run, 20 RBIs and a .433 slugging percentage.
As Keur took in the remaining games of the series from the dugout with a pair of fresh crutches at his side, Boss said Keur will serve as an advisor on the bench and will be a critical source of energy if MSU is able to make a run.
“We got guys to play hard, and that’s first and foremost,” Boss said.
“I think having a kid like Jordan Keur in the dugout really helps. He really can’t contribute on the field anymore, but I think there’s a little bit more of a focus and a belief that we can get it done, especially for a guy like that.”
Before jumping back into Big Ten play against Minnesota this weekend, the Spartans host Toledo (12-21, 4-8 Mid-American Conference) at 3:05 p.m. Tuesday. From there, the team faces a quick turnaround playing a primetime matchup Wednesdaywith Central Michigan (15-19, 5-7) in the Clash at Comerica at Comerica in Detroit (6:35 p.m., Spartan Sports Network).
Following the series, a reflective Boss said the Spartans might be too young to realize the gravity of what was done in a weekend against one of the nation’s toughest teams. But given the results, Boss said perhaps their youthful ignorance might serve as an advantage going forward.
That mindset was never clearer than from the remarks made by Sunday’s hero, sophomore first baseman Ryan Krill.
Trying to catch his breath from his game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth to earn the 6-5 win, Krill smirked as he commented the series was just another step in a journey to win the Big Ten championship.
“Three more games, three more games on track and three more games that we’ve won,” Krill said. “We’re just looking for a Big Ten title.”