Salter, Pickens lead MSU to 12-3 victory against Illinois
The MSU baseball team came out of the gate swinging and never let up Friday, beating Illinois, 12-3, behind strong performances from sophomore designated hitter Blaise Salter, junior catcher Joel Fisher and sophomore outfielder Jimmy Pickens.
It was an even more special day for the seniors. Playing in their final home series, seniors pitchers Cody Huge, Trey Popp, Andrew Waszak, Joe Zwierzynski, pitcher and first baseman Trevor Cousineau and outfielder Jordan Keur were honored before the game.
Waszak earned his fifth win of the season, allowing only seven hits and three runs in the winning effort. He also had three strikeouts and three walks.
When Waszak was relieved in the eighth inning by Popp, Waszak was met with a standing ovation from the crowd
“Andrew got the curtain call that he deserved as a senior,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “He’s meant so much to this program, and he deserved the standing ovation.
MSU (25-13 overall, 8-5 Big Ten) got things rolling early. Salter, who is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, drilled in a three-run home run during his first at-bat in the first inning.
Not long after, Fisher hit a home run of his own and third baseman Justin Hovis scored first baseman Ryan Krill on a single, giving the Spartans a 6-0 lead that they held for the rest of the game.
“Putting up the six runs in the first inning is huge,” Salter said. “It helps everybody out and keeps everybody aggressive, and keeps everyone loose.”
Illinois responded during the top of the second inning, when left fielder Jordan Parr scored on a passed ball.
However, in the bottom of the second, MSU answered back with two more runs, further padding its lead. Pickens scored Salter on a double following a double from Salter himself. Afterwards, Fisher scored Pickens for another RBI, giving MSU an 8-1 lead.
The Salter-Pickens-Fisher trio combined to hit 10-for-13 with 10 RBIs and four home runs, carrying the Spartans to a much-needed victory.
“The middle of our order was really good today,” Boss said. “Lots of good swings, lots of good pitches. When your middle is dropping guys in, you got a chance to put up a good number.”
With the Big Ten Tournament approaching, Boss said every game is a big game for a team still fighting for a shot at the conference’s top spot.
“It’s important to win Friday,” Boss said. “When you win Friday, you put yourself in a good position to win the series. At the same time, if we don’t come out and play well tomorrow, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. We take it for what it is. It’s one win, it’s a good win, and back to work tomorrow.”
MSU returns for the second game in the Illinois series Saturday at 1:05 pm. Junior David Gardner will be the starting pitcher for the Spartans.