The MSU baseball team took a valiant bow out of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday afternoon after battling for 11 innings in its second matchup with No. 2-seed Indiana resulting in a 4-3 loss.
The Spartans finish the season with a 37-21 overall record and are still hoping to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team tournament field will be announced Monday.
“That was a tough one — that’s a sad locker room right now,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said after the loss in extra innings. “It’s a good group of kids, and I hope we get a chance to continue to play together.”
Indiana shortstop Michael Basil’s single in the top of the eleventh brought home teammate Micah Johnson, who was walked to start the inning and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, for the decisive fourth run. MSU responded by going three up, three down in its final at-bat, thus sealing the Hoosier victory.
The Hoosiers built a 2-0 lead in the top of the second, but MSU would even the score in the bottom half of the inning.
The leadoff batter, junior third baseman Torsten Boss, was walked and advanced to third base shortly after by way of a double from junior designated hitter John Martinez. MSU cut its deficit in half after freshman first baseman Ryan Krill’s sacrifice fly scored Boss.
Sophomore catcher Joel Fisher tied the game two batters later with a single that scored Martinez, putting the score at 2-2.
Both teams failed to crack the scoreboard for six consecutive innings, mostly in part to great pitching performances on each side. Freshman pitcher Mick VanVossen was solid as he recorded a career-high in innings pitched with eight and two-thirds. VanVossen, who usually starts mid-week games for the Spartans, struck out two and had a pair of errors.
“The plan was just throw strikes, get ahead in the count and make them get themselves out,” VanVossen said. “And we worked with it throughout the whole game, and it worked well for us.”
Indiana pitcher Chad Martin, who drew the praise of Boss, allowed four hits in eight innings of work. MSU only registered five hits in the contest.
“Credit indiana, their guy was lights out,” Boss said. “I thought Chad Martin threw extremely well. He got us to swing at a lot of balls that we could not hit hard.”
With two outs in the top of the ninth Indiana got a double to stay alive when the next batter, Will Nolden knocked a RBI single to left field giving the Hoosiers a late 3-2 lead.
The pressure was on MSU in the bottom of the ninth when senior shortstop Justin Scanlon responded immediately with a leadoff double to begin the rally. After junior left fielder Jordan Keur reached on an error, Boss got on base with a bunt for just his second hit of the tournament and a throwing error allowed Scanlon to score from third.
Two batters later with the score tied at 3-3, freshman right fielder Jimmy Pickens was at the plate with one out and the bases loaded and MSU looked poised to win it in the final frame. Pickens reached on a fielder’s choice as Keur was forced out at the plate. Fisher then flew out to left field to head to extra innings.
“They gave us every chance that they could for us to win the game,” Scanlon said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite capitalize there with the game-winning run but we tied it up, had a chance to win it a few innings later but it just didn’t work out for us.”
The Spartans appeared to threaten before stranding two runners in the bottom of the tenth, which allowed Indiana to take the lead in the top of the eleventh inning.
Martinez popped up to shortstop to begin the final stand in the bottom of the eleventh for MSU. Next, Krill struck out followed by a flyout to right field from Pickens to end the game.
“We had our opportunities, and they seemed to make a pitch or make a play when they needed to and took advantage of an opportunity they had there in the top of the eleventh,” Boss said.
Indiana advances to play No. 1-seed and regular season champion Purdue tonight for the second time in the tournament. If Purdue wins, then the Boilermakers will claim the tournament title, while if Indiana wins, the teams will meet again at 12:05 on Sunday for the championship.