On a day meant for seniors, it was a junior who stole the show — and the series for the MSU baseball team.
Trailing for much of the afternoon against Illinois in the final in-conference home game of the season Sunday, junior catcher Joel Fisher stepped to the plate with two runners and MSU down 3-1 in the eighth inning at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field.
Facing a two-strike count, Fisher put a charge into a slider from Illinois reliever Bryan Roberts and the ball caught a drift of wind and sailed over the left field scoreboard to power the Spartans (26-14 overall, 9-6 Big Ten) to a 4-3 victory against the Fighting Illini (28-15, 9-9).
“I’m just excited I could step up for the team,” Fisher said. “Somebody had to do it. It’s Senior Day. Big win. I’m just happy I could pull through for us.”
Waiting to talk to the media following the game, Fisher was greeted with a celebratory towel full of shaving cream directly to his face — a custom made popular in Major League Baseball often distributed to the player responsible for a game-winning hit.
Fisher spent several minutes wincing while cleaning the shaving cream off of his face. At the same time, Fisher appreciated what the Spartans were able to accomplish in the weekend series.
“It hurts, I can feel (the shaving cream) — trust me,” Fisher said with a grin. “I was just happy I could step up for the team and the seniors and the guys who couldn’t be out on the field.”
Sophomore pitcher Mick VanVossen got the start for the Spartans and earned a no-decision after tossing seven innings, striking out three and allowing three earned runs on nine hits.
The Fighting Illini jumped on VanVossen early, scoring a pair of runs in the first two innings and digging MSU into an early hole. However, VanVossen settled down and carried the game through until the Spartans were able to get on the board.
That moment came in the fourth inning when sophomore right fielder Jimmy Pickens grounded out to the second baseman, allowing the inning’s leadoff hitter, sophomore center fielder Anthony Cheky, to score from third base.
Illinois tallied another run in the top of the seventh on a solo home run by first baseman David Kerian to regain a two-run lead.
Fisher’s blast came in the eighth inning and gave way to freshman pitcher Anthony Misiewicz to shut the door in the ninth to earn the victory.
“It’s a funny game,” Boss said. “It was very well played and I thought they had us and we put one good swing on a bad pitch that their guy made and it turned into a three-run homer. I told our guys I was proud of them for not panicking when it wasn’t going well and not getting too frustrated.
“They stayed the course and did a great job playing a complete nine innings.”
So long, seniors
With hundreds of fans looking on, the Spartans celebrated Senior Day on Sunday.
The program payed homage to seniors pitchers Cody Huge, Trey Popp, Andrew Waszak, Joe Zwierzynski, pitcher and first baseman Trevor Cousineau and outfielder Jordan Keur, who were honored with members of their family before the game.
“Senior Day is something you look forward to,” said Keur, who is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles’ injury. “It went by way too fast but it’s an emotional day and when you get to share it with the guys you came in with for four years, it’s awesome.”
The class had the potential to be one of the most talented in the history of the MSU program — especially given third baseman Torsten Boss, second baseman Ryan Jones and pitcher Tony Wieber were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft following their junior seasons and signed with their respective clubs.
It also was missing senior third baseman John Martinez, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and his lateral meniscus and suffered a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in March. Martinez is expected to be granted a medical redshirt and return to the team next season.
The Spartans host one final home game this season on Wednesday against Eastern Michigan and will finish out the regular season on the road in series against Iowa, Central Michigan and Penn State, respectively.