Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sluggers look for win out of conference

April 3, 2002
Senior shortstop Jared Koutnik catches the ball as Minnesota second basemen Luke Appert is called safe at second base in Sunday —

After a weekend split in their Big Ten opening series, the Spartans are gearing up for Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne today at Kobs Field.

The Spartans (17-5 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) take the field at 3 p.m. with hopes of capturing a win against the Mastodons (10-14) before returning to Big Ten action this weekend.

The two teams met March 23 in Indianapolis, with MSU eeking out a 5-4 victory after trailing most of the game.

Despite losing, the Mastodons did something no Spartan opponent had done in the team’s last six games - held it under nine runs. IPFW held a 4-2 lead until the sixth inning, when MSU scored three runs on four hits.

“We just weren’t able to keep them down,” Mastodon manager Billy Gernon said. “They carry some big sticks and just have a tremendous offense.”

Gernon said despite his fear of MSU bats, he is throwing the offensive mismatch aside and turning to his last resort for today’s game - faith.

“Our plan is for all the coaches to sit and pray for our offense to match up with Michigan State’s,” Gernon said. “We have really got to play at the top of our game to play with them.

“Offensively, we just do not match up.”

Left fielder Joel Lesher leads IPFW on the offensive end. The senior leads off for the Mastodons, hitting .351 with 17 walks. Catcher Rich Hale provides the deep threat, leading the team with five home runs and 19 RBIs.

But as a team, the Mastodons only are hitting .272, well below the Spartans’ team batting average of .362.

“They’re a very good team, fundamentally sound and good competition,” senior center fielder Chris McCuiston said. “Like every other team, we look at statistics and records, but we have to throw them out because we can’t overlook our opponent.”

With both teams also preparing for a weekend series, fans shouldn’t expect to see either team’s best pitchers.

“We’re really strong one through five, pitching wise,” Gernon said. “After that, we’re very vulnerable and it looks like we’re going to be throwing five, six, seven and eight on Wednesday.”

Gernon said even though he’s throwing his less experienced pitchers, the battle between the weaker pitching may work in his team’s favor.

“(MSU manager Ted Mahan’s) going to be saving his best pitchers for this weekend as well, so that gives us a little more opportunity and a chance, in my opinion,” Gernon said. “We’re going to bring a team up there and fight to win.”

The top three pitchers for the Mastodons are a combined 7-3, all having ERAs under 5.00. The rest of the staff is a combined 3-11 and the lowest ERA among the group is 6.21.

The Mastodons enter the game after a two-game sweep at Valparaiso Saturday with scores of 11-7 and 5-2.

The Spartans come into the game off of their first Big Ten series of the year. MSU split a four-game series with Minnesota, taking the last two of a tripleheader on Saturday.

McCuiston said the team was disappointed with the weekend’s performance, but it will shake off the disappointment.

“It kinda hurts us as a team taking only two games this weekend, especially since we were at home,” McCuiston said. “But we’re going to use it as motivation and everyone is excited to get back out there and turn things around.”

The weather will have to cooperate with the Spartans to have that opportunity. And in recent weeks, the weather has been creating a problem, most recently turning Saturday’s doubleheader into a tripleheader after the postponement of Friday’s game.

Mahan said the Spartans need to put the weather aside and play solid baseball today.

“It’s the same for both teams, but I tell the guys that we can’t control the weather,” Mahan said. “All we can control is what we do out on the field.”

Despite the irritation Mother Nature has given the Spartans, McCuiston said the team is immune.

“We’ve had so much cold weather the past two weeks, we’ve gotten use to overcoming it,” he said. “We’ve gotten use to it mentally.

“We have that mental state to win no matter what the temperature is.”


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