MSU baseball begins season 3-0 in South Carolina in First Pitch Open
Coming into the 2016 baseball season, one of the biggest question marks that head coach Jake Boss Jr. had for his team was their offensive potency. After all, the Spartans are coming off a 34-23 record in 2015 where they finished third in the Big Ten standings. Boss brought in a number of transfer students to try to fill the void of eight Spartans leaving for the 2015 MLB draft, six of which were everyday starters.
But the MSU baseball team answered those questions with an exclamation point during the weekend, when they scored 33 runs through three games to start the season out in Greenville, South Carolina. Throughout the weekend, MSU faced three different opponents — Presbyterian College, Furman University and Fordham University.
“It was nice to get out there and play a little bit and see what we were really made of,” freshman third baseman Marty Bechina said. “We came out, played as a team and it came out the way we wanted it to.”
MSU kicked off the season with Presbyterian at the First Pitch Open Friday afternoon. The Spartans looked shaky during their first inning of play, taking the field to play defense first. Redshirt junior pitcher Cam Vieaux retired the first two batters of the inning before giving up a home run to infielder Nick Wise. After that, a pair of errors by Vieaux and sophomore first basemen Alex Troop made it a 4-0 game.
The Spartans countered with one run in the first and Presbyterian would go unanswered in the second. MSU would find their offensive stride with five runs on five hits during the second inning. Bechina hit a three-run home run to left field, tying the game 4-4. MSU would take the lead and never look back when second baseman Jordan Zimmerman scored on a fielder’s choice hit by catcher Matt Byars.
The other bulk of MSU’s runs came during the bottom of the sixth, when Troop and sophomore outfielder Zack McGuire led off the inning with back-to-back doubles. McGuire scored on a sac fly by junior left fielder Dan Durkin and Byars scored on a Bechina single to center field to make the score 10-5. MSU would go on to seal the victory by a final score of 11-5.
MSU picked up the offense again on Saturday, this time facing Furman. The Spartans defeated the Paladins 15-8. Bechina finished the game 4-for-5 with a double, Zimmerman went 3-for-4 with an RBI, two extra base hits and and two stolen bases. Alex Troop went 2-for-3 and drew three walks from the plate. From the mound, Troop earned the win from relief with 3.2 innings pitched and he struck out five.
“I really think we fed off of each other,” Troop said. “As one person started hitting everyone else started to follow. I think we had nine guys on the team hit .300 over the weekend and it’s really incredible when you get a flow like that and you can see it.”
The Spartans wrapped up their road trip against Fordham on Sunday, where they defeated the Rams 7-2. Hughes hit his first home run of the season and also drew a walk and hit two batters in to finish the game 2-for-3. Junior starting pitcher Walter Borkovich only gave up one run in seven innings of work. Borkovich would walk three and struck out six to earn his first win of the season.
Weekend totals and what’s next
Although the Spartans' bats got off to a white-hot start, the defense was still shaking off some rust. Through the team's three games during the weekend, MSU committed six errors, all of which came in the first two games. The offense, however, already looks to be in midseason form.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with last weekend,” Boss said. “Going into it we thought we would pitch it very well and play good defense and didn’t know what we would get offensively.
"I think the important thing to take away is that we got better as the weekend progressed. Saturday we played better than we did Friday and Sunday we did better than we did on Saturday, so that was encouraging to see.”
Bechina was honored as Big Ten's freshman of the week, going 7-for-13 during the weekend. Bechina had three extra-base hits and also crossed the plate six times and hit four RBI’s during the weekend. The Chicago native is hitting .538 and boasts a 1.523 OPS.
Currently, MSU is hitting .376 as a team, which leads the Big Ten. From the mound, the team is posting a 3.00 ERA and limit their opponents to a .221 batting average. All in all, the team believes there were many positive things to take away from the weekend.
“It looks like like we’re comfortable,” Bechina said. “But we’re not settled in yet. We’re getting ready for next week. Those three games are behind us, I mean they were great but now we are moving on.”
Next up, the Spartans will travel to Corpus Christi, Texas to play Texas State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and UCF in the Kleberg Bank Tournament. First pitch against Texas State is slated for 3 p.m. on Friday.