A series of unusual lineup changes for the visiting Toledo Rockets weren’t enough to keep MSU off the scoreboard on Tuesday afternoon.
The Spartans (21-17 overall, 5-7 Big Ten) used some opportunistic offense early to beat the Mid-American Conference foe, 4-2, in a game that saw the Rockets (15-23 overall, 7-8 MAC) play some unique lineup combinations.
Both third baseman John Martillotta and left fielder Jordan Kesson took turns on the mound for the Rockets after a rough first inning from starting pitcher Steven Calhoun, who gave up three quick runs.
The outing was part of a very solid day at the plate for Gibson, who got on base four times for the Spartans.
Gibson said it was “good to be back home” batting lead-off for MSU.
“I felt like it was really good for us,” Gibson said of the victory. “I think today was a really good turning point for us.”
Salter’s RBI single was part of a rough start by Calhoun. Gibson moved to second on his first at-bat after a fielding error, and junior center fielder Anthony Cheky then drew a walk.
The combination of Gibson in the lead-off spot, followed by Cheky, makes matters difficult for starting pitchers, Gibson said.
“It’s kind of tough, it just puts a lot of stress on the other team,” he said.
The Spartans kept the scoring going on a fielder’s choice by junior right fielder Jimmy Pickens, bringing Cheky home and extending the MSU lead to 2-0.
Salter scored next following a sac fly to center by junior first baseman Ryan Krill, bringing the MSU lead to 3-0 at the end of the first.
Making his first career start for the Spartans, freshman lefty Joe Mockbee made quick work of the Rockets in the first inning, forcing flyouts from Toledo shortstop Deion Tansel and right fielder Ryan Callahan.
Mockbee also struck out Toledo second baseman Zack Michael to start the third inning, and Toledo failed to respond from there, as Callahan flew out to the infield, leaving two men on base.
Mockbee has the potential to play a lot in the future for the Spartans, Boss said.
“(He’s) certainly not scared of anything,” he said. “He’s got the mindset that a starter needs to have.”
After the Rockets moved Kesson to the mound, the Spartans failed to get on the board again in the third after a single by senior designated hitter Joel Fisher.
MSU made a pitching change of its own in the top of the fourth after a groundout by first baseman Jacob North scored Tyler Baar. The Spartans then brought senior pitcher Chase Rihtarchik into the game to replace Mockbee.
Going into the bottom of the fourth, MSU’s Justin Hovis scored from third on a sac fly to right field by Salter, extending the MSU lead to 4-1.
Rihtarchik kept Toledo off the board in the fifth inning, but a sixth-inning triple by Toledo’s Callahan led to an RBI single by Baar, cutting the MSU lead to 4-2.