Key games ahead for Spartan baseball team


Any way you slice it, there’s not much to love from last weekend for MSU baseball head coach Jake Boss Jr. and the MSU baseball team.

After winning 11 of 12 games, including taking two against Ohio State, the Spartans (17-11, 2-4 Big Ten) were swept in a three-game series against Michigan. The Spartans struggled to match the Wolverines’ aggressiveness at the plate and on the base paths — a major factor in the first suffered sweep by the program since March 2012.

Yet, there’s not much time for a post-mortem of a difficult weekend.

Staring at another challenging week, which kicks off with a 3:05 p.m. date with Western Michigan (11-19 overall, 5-4 Mid-American Conference) on Wednesday, Boss said the Spartans need to be more aggressive and show measured improvement in multiple areas to get back to their winning ways.

“We continue to make the same mistakes, we continue to chase balls outside of the strike zone, we continue to take quality pitches in hitter’s counts,” Boss said after Sunday’s loss to Michigan. “We’re not aggressive, and it’s something we’ve talked about all year, and it’s something we talked about last year and the year before. It’s not rocket science.”

The Spartans have a 75-92-0 (.449) all-time record against Western Michigan, although MSU took both games a season ago, 13-3 and 15-7, respectively.

Junior pitcher Chase Rihtarchik is set to start against the Broncos and has established himself as a viable midweek option in MSU’s rotation. Rihtarchik has a 3-0 record with a 1.85 ERA to this point of the year, including a complete-game no-hitter against Oakland, earning him Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors.

Still, the key to the game will be if the Spartans can find consistency at the plate.

Other than sophomore outfielder Anthony Cheky (.341) and senior outfielder Jordan Keur (.320), the Spartans don’t have another player hitting better than .300 and rank eighth in the conference in hitting.

Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Wolverines, sophomore outfielder Jimmy Pickens said it would behoove the team to simplify the game on offense to get on the right track this week.

“Going into these games, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing Penn State or Central Michigan; you’re gonna want to beat them,” Pickens said. “To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s Michigan or a little league team, I’m gonna go out there and try to win. It’s what everyone else is trying to do.”

Following the game with the Broncos, the Spartans take a short road trip to Lansing on Thursday to meet the Class-A Minor League Lansing Lugnuts in the seventh annual Crosstown Showdown (7:05 p.m., Big Ten Network). The game preludes a three-game weekend series with Big Ten leading Indiana (25-4, 8-1) at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field.

Sophomore pitcher Mick VanVossen, who’s set to start Sunday against the Hoosiers, said the week will prove critical if the Spartans want to be in pursuit of a Big Ten championship at the end of the season.

“Well, after getting swept like that, we definitely need to win them,” VanVossen said. “I, myself, would like to make a statement and just show them we’re here to play and get stuff clicking.”

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