MSU baseball yearning for consistency through grind of regular season
The Spartan baseball season, to say the least, has experienced a myriad of troughs and valleys.
Much like a program-best start in 2016, MSU started off 2017 red hot, its eyes set on a Big Ten championship. Predictably through the grind of a baseball season, the Spartans started to slow down.
But as conference play began, it was the Spartans capitalizing against a struggling Illinois team on the road. There, the offense exploded for 41 runs as MSU blitzed to a pristine 3-0 Big Ten record.
Then, a bumpy road.
It started off against a Western Michigan team at home. Then to the hands of reigning regular season Big Ten champion Minnesota. The Golden Gophers promptly marched into McLane Baseball Stadium and swept the Spartans.
It dropped MSU's Big Ten record to 3-3, a far cry from the perfection the Spartans flirted with after Illinois.
The low point came against a hapless Eastern Michigan team on the road. It marked a five-game losing streak for MSU as head coach Jake Boss Jr. said post-game somebody on his team has to take responsibility for the skid.
Since then, a resurgence.
Against a Fresno State team in Grand Rapids, the Bulldogs were no match as MSU was back to its hard-hitting ways, combining for 27 runs on the series.
Sandwiched around a loss to Notre Dame, then came the Ohio State Buckeyes. It was the Spartans' first crack at a Big Ten opponent since falling way short against Minnesota.
Against the Buckeyes, the Spartans continued their impressive play, squeezing by Ohio State in a pair of close games to begin the series.
In doing so, MSU reversed a disturbing trend. During the longest losing stretch of the season, the Spartans dropped four of its five games by a mere run. Facing Ohio State, the Spartans managed to eek by the visitors, a sharp contrast.
With the Spartans back on track, Boss said there hasn't been any one player who has taken the bulk of the responsibility. Instead, the head coach said it's been a mix of contributions coming from a variety of sources.
"It's been a different guy every day," Boss said. "I think (in game two against Ohio State) it was the bullpen. (In game one), you can make an argument for the bullpen, as well. Somebody's got to get it done and fortunately today, we did."
It has been a different hero for the Spartans throughout their recent winning ways. In game two against the Buckeyes, the bullpen excelled after redshirt-junior righty Ethan Landon had a rough go as the starter.
But it was the batters, too, who powered MSU to the victory, belting two homers and pushing six runs across the plate.Alex Troop, the Spartan ace, said the hitters make up the motor that runs the team. The redshirt-sophomore, who also splits time at the plate, said once the batters can force their impact on the game, the pitching staff takes care of the rest.
"When we hit well, we usually win games," Troop said. "(In game one), we didn't swing the bats too well. I know I personally didn't swing the bat that well but when we swing it well, when we put up runs our pitching staff is usually good enough to stay below three or four runs a game consistently. So if we can do that, we usually win a lot of games."
While the Spartans can hang their hats on the positives, Boss said because of the unpredictability of baseball, consistency is one of the toughest aspects of the game.
"(Consistency) is the challenge," Boss said. "I think we were really good at the plate (game one) and we only scored two runs. We were not very good (game two) and scored six. That's why it's such a beautiful game."
While actual results on the diamond fluctuates based on small margins, there is one factor the Spartans are able to control — their compete level.
Redshirt-sophomore Dan Chmielewski, who hit a huge two-run homer in game two against Ohio State, said the Spartans, through thick and thin, have gone out and contended regardless of the situation.
While the outfielder acknowledged the drudgery of a long baseball season, he said his team has always gone out and laid it all on the field.
"(Consistency) is one thing I think a lot of teams struggle with sometimes," Chmielewski said. "I think our team should be commended for coming out to the yard every day and still working hard. We've lost a few one-run games here and there but we're still out here competing."