Sunday, April 14, 2024

Still Swingin'

Baseball team continues season, receives first NCAA Tournament bid since 1979

May 28, 2012
Underclassmen players gather on the field to embrace senior players and their families during the game against Penn State on May 19, 2012 at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans beat Penn State 9-2. Julia Nagy/The State News
Underclassmen players gather on the field to embrace senior players and their families during the game against Penn State on May 19, 2012 at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans beat Penn State 9-2. Julia Nagy/The State News —
Photo by Julia Nagy | and Julia Nagy The State News

Since he arrived on campus in 2008, Jake Boss Jr. has developed a reputation for breaking down historical barriers as the head coach of the MSU baseball program.
On Monday, another barrier fell.

After weeks of uncertainty, the Spartans (37-21) earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed in the Palo Alto Regional and will play No. 2-seed Pepperdine (34-21) at 4 p.m. (1 p.m., local time) on Friday. Moreover, the berth marks the fifth time in program history the Spartans have made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament — the first such appearance since 1979.

Following a team watch party in anticipation of the announcement at Berkowitz Basketball Complex at Breslin Center on Monday afternoon, Boss said the excitement level to continue on into the postseason for the first time in 33 years couldn’t be much higher for his team.

“It’s a credit to our seniors, guys like Tony Bucciferro, Andrew Carpenter, Andy Johnson,” Boss said. “Those guys (who) have been here for four years who have kind of taken it to where it is right now. I’m happy that they get that reward. … This kind of caps it for those guys. Like I told them afterward, we’re playing with house money now. It’s a chance to go out, have a great trip out there and kind of let it all hang out and play good baseball.”

The Spartans join Pepperdine, No. 1-seed Stanford (38-16) and No. 4-seed Fresno State (30-26) in the Palo Alto Regional in Palo Alto, Calif. MSU is one of two Big Ten teams to earn an NCAA bid this season, joining Big Ten champion Purdue — who earned a No. 1 seed and will host regional play in Gary, Ind.

Despite several tournament projections having the Spartans on the outside looking in, NCAA Baseball Committee Chairman Kyle Kallander said MSU’s strong nonconference schedule made it too hard for the selection committee to ignore.

With wins on the season against then-No. 11 St. John’s, Baylor and Big Ten top-seed Purdue — all of whom earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament — the Spartans did more than enough to earn a spot to the Big Dance, Kallander said in a conference call with the media on Monday.

“We talked a lot about the fact they were the fifth place team coming out of the Big Ten, (and) we understood that, recognized that, but when it got down to it, the things in their favor were their nonconference schedule strength,” he said. “They went out and challenged themselves. They had success. In their region, they were the second team right behind Purdue.”

Following a less-than-stellar team performance in the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, junior second baseman Ryan Jones said he’s eager for the opportunity to extend the Spartans’ season on a more national scale.

“When our name flashed up there, the whole room erupted,” Jones said. “I mean, there really wasn’t a better feeling than that all year long.”

Jones, who hit .356 with 90 hits, 16 doubles and three home runs near the top of the Spartan order this season, said his team has new life in the NCAA Tournament and will do everything in terms of preparation to take advantage of that.

“Winning the Big Ten championship last year was something close, but this was kind of on a whole different level,” he said. “We didn’t win the Big Ten championship this year, and to still be able to play in the postseason this year without doing that, we’re just lucky to have people look at us in this way on a national level.”

Taking the ball in the opening game against the Waves will be the senior pitcher Tony Bucciferro. In 15 starts this season, Bucciferro is 6-3 with a 2.80 earned run average and a conference-leading 90 strikeouts to take the reins of a deep MSU pitching rotation that finished third in the Big Ten in combined earned run average.

Since the Spartans haven’t been in the NCAA Tournament in more than three decades, Bucciferro said expectations of the program in postseason play aren’t too high. That being the case, Bucciferro said his team has an opportunity to change the national perception of the program, which starts by beating Pepperdine and making a run in the NCAA Tournament.

“There’s not a lot of pressure because there’s not a lot expected from a national point of view from us,” Bucciferro said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to take it to them; play our game and show them what Michigan State is all about. I think if we do that, we have a good chance to go far in this thing.”

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