Thursday, February 29, 2024

Spartans split Big Ten opening series

April 1, 2002
MSU sophomore First basemen Scott Koerber reaches to tag out Minnesota second basemen Luke Appert as he slides back into first base at Kobs Field on Sunday. Minnesota beat MSU 10-6. —

After dropping its Big Ten opener, the MSU baseball team used the long ball to split a four-game series with Minnesota at Kobs Field this weekend.

The Spartans (17-5 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) hit nine home runs in Saturday’s tripleheader to win two games. The wins were highlighted by career performances by two seniors, pitcher Nick Bates and center fielder Chris McCuiston.

The Spartans gave up three home runs in the series finale to lose 10-6 to the Golden Gophers (10-14, 2-2) on Sunday.

Manager Ted Mahan said he expected a better series for MSU.

“It’s disappointing when we could have won the game,” Mahan said of the finale. “If we’re going to be in the upper part of our conference we’re going to have to do more than split at home no matter who we are playing.

“We just didn’t get it done.”

The Spartans hit seven home runs in 5-3 and 14-4 victories Saturday, but were only able to generate one in the loss Sunday. The Golden Gophers hit three in the fourth game of the series to match their total for the tripleheader Saturday.

The team that scored first won every game of the series.

On Sunday, the Gophers wasted no time putting runs on the board. Nine different batters stepped to the plate in the first inning for Minnesota, which translated to a 4-0 lead.

The bulk of the damage came from a three-run homer by Gopher right fielder Jason Kennedy. Kennedy later hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to finish 3-for-4 with five RBIs and four runs scored.

For the game, Spartan pitching allowed 21 hits in the contest.

MSU senior pitcher Kyle Geswein (1-1) picked up the Spartan loss in just two-thirds of an inning. Geswein allowed six hits and four earned runs.

“It’s tough to come back,” Mahan said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of pitching.”

The Spartan batters were unable to get a fix on Gopher sophomore pitcher Jay Gagner (3-0). In five innings of work, Gagner allowed just five hits and one earned run. Minnesota pitcher Craig Molldrem picked up the save in four innings of work.

But the Spartans took advantage of Gopher miscues to score three runs in the fourth inning.

Spartan junior catcher Brady Burrill and McCuiston reached on errors by Gopher infielders. Then, sophomore first baseman Scott Koerber hit an RBI double to make the score 5-1. McCuiston and Koerber also scored to make it a three-run fourth inning.

Junior right fielder Bob Malek added a home run in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 5-4.

But the Gophers did not fold, putting three more runs on the board in the sixth inning to take an 8-4 lead.

The Spartans once again fought back scoring two runs in the bottom of that inning.

With two outs, junior left fielder Brett Wattles and senior shortstop Jared Koutnik hit RBI singles to cut the lead to 8-6. But Malek hit a chopper back to the mound to end the inning, leaving the two batters stranded.

“I thought we could’ve come back,” Burrill said. “We just fell short today, but we’ll come back.

“We’ll beat up on some of the conference teams, too.”

The first game of the series which started Friday was postponed due to rain after three innngs. At that point, the Gophers led 1-0.

The Spartans trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth, when senior designated hitter Geswein hit a two-run home run to tie the game.

However, the Spartans were unable to overcome a two-run home run by Gopher left fielder Scott Howard in the eighth inning. Minnesota right fielder Kennedy scored three runs in the two-day game.

In the second game, the long ball started to surface for the Spartans, and Bates had a career performance to propel the team to a 5-3 victory.

The Spartans hit two home runs in the game, including a game-winning two-run homer by Koerber.

Bates struck out a career-high 10 batters en route to his second complete game of the season.

Wattles was the catalyst in the final two games going 3-for-5 with three RBIs and four runs scored. He hit the game-tying home run in the fifth inning.

In the final game, MSU blew the game open with a five-run fifth inning, in which they batted around to win 14-4. Then, MSU added four runs in the sixth inning.

McCuiston hit two three-run homers to help him compile a career-high seven RBIs in the decisive innings.

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