Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sluggers host Big Ten leader

April 12, 2002

The Spartans are looking to extend their three-game winning streak this weekend when they host conference leader Indiana.

MSU (20-6 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) kicks off a four-game series against the Hoosiers (24-6, 6-2) at 3 p.m. today at Kobs Field.

“This is an extremely important series for our baseball program,” Spartan manager Ted Mahan said. “We’re playing a team that’s 24-6 and we’re 20-6 and that’s fun stuff.

“It was four years ago, and we were playing Michigan. We were in fifth, and they were in fourth. That was the last time I remember a series this big.”

At that time, only the top four teams in the conference made the Big Ten playoffs and the rivals were battling for the last spot.

Indiana enters the game winners of four of their last five contests. Prior to their 10-7 win against Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday, Indiana took the first three games of a four-game set against Iowa.

“We’re going to go out and try to win the first game on Friday,” senior pitcher Pat Gill said. “If we win the first game on Friday, with the way things are going, we know there’s a good chance for a victory in the first game on Saturday with Nick Bates on the mound. And if we win a couple of games early, we’ll be putting pressure on them and it will make Sunday’s game that much easier.”

Indiana is led by third baseman Vasili Spanos. Spanos leads the Hoosier starters with a .449 batting average, 11 home runs and 44 RBIs. He also boasts an astounding .929 slugging percentage.

Center fielder Kennard Jones also swings a hot stick for Indiana. He is hitting .419 and leads the team in hits and runs scored with 52 and 53, respectively.

“I think that we’re very comparable,” senior shortstop Jared Koutnik said. “They can swing ’em, they have pretty good pitching and I think it’s going to be four tough games. But hopefully we can squeeze out all four - at least three because we’re at home.”

Sophomore right-hander Bryan Gale (3-2) gets the nod for Friday’s contest. Senior right-hander Bates (7-0) will take the mound for Saturday’s first game while right-hander Tim Day (5-1) will attempt to continue his freshman magic in the latter game.

As usual, coach Mahan will see what he has left on his bench for Sunday’s contest.

After the Spartans 20-2 rout of Grand Valley on Wednesday, senior center fielder Chris McCuiston said the team has just what it needs for the Indiana series.

“I think it boosted our confidence,” McCuiston said. “It’s huge, getting all those runs, getting all those at bats just before Indiana.

“They are a tough team atop of the Big Ten right now and (Wednesday’s game) got everyone on a high level and ready to play against good competition.”

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