On Sunday, No. 23 MSU baseball fell 8-4 in 11 innings to conference opponent Indiana. The loss came after the Spartans staved off one-run deficits in the ninth and tenth innings. The game was the rubber match of a tightly contested conference series between the Spartans (27-9, 8-3 conference) and Indiana (22-15, 7-4).
MSU went with Joe Mockbee on the mound to start the game. Mockbee has been the Spartans’ closer all season, and Sunday’s contest was his first appearance as a starter this season.
The Spartans took a 2-0 lead early on in the game. They picked up a run off Hoosiers starter Evan Bell in each of the first two innings. Bell walked Brandon Hughes on four pitches in the game’s first at-bat. A passed ball and two groundouts helped Hughes move up and eventually score. In the second inning, Matt Byars doubled with two down, and Justin Hovis drove in Byars with a single.
Mockbee mowed down six straight batters in the first and second innings. In the third, the southpaw got into some trouble for the first time all game. Indiana’s Brian Wilhite kicked off the inning with his team’s first hit of the game. After two outs, Wilhite would score on a standup triple by Isaiah Pasteur.
Mockbee recovered to close out the inning after a meeting at the mound, thanks to a diving grab and assist by second baseman Dan Durkin. He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning and got two quick outs in the fifth before the Hoosiers started a rally. Three consecutive two-out singles off Mockbee helped the Hoosiers drive in a run.
Mockbee was pulled after allowing the game-tying single to Craig Dedelow. He was replaced by Walter Borkovich, who pitched 1 inning of shutout ball in relief. After Borkovich allowed two walks with two out in the sixth, Dakota Mekkes entered the game.
Mekkes escaped the sixth-inning jam, but did allow a run in the seventh after a walk and two hits with just one out.
Bell was replaced by Jake Kelzer in the bottom of the seventh. Kelzer allowed two base hits and no runs in his first 2.2 innings. However, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Spartans posed a rally. Byars drew a walk, and Hovis hit a double to drive in pinch-runner Jake Kruk for the game-tying run. After Kory Young grounded out, the game went to extra innings.
Mekkes allowed his second run in the top of the tenth. He walked Alex Krupa, who subsequently stole second base and then scored on Brian Wilhite's single. Keegan Baar came in and forced a double play to end the Hoosiers' inning.
Mekkes had an up-and-down outing. In 3.2 innings pitched, all but one of Mekkes’ eleven outs came on a strikeout, and he threw 92 pitches in his outing.
"He’s got swing-and-miss stuff," MSU head coach Jake Boss said of Mekkes. "Sometimes that stuff gets overshadowed by the negative, but that’s exactly what he does. His stuff is lights-out. If he can command it and stay in the strike zone, he’s as close to unhittable as anyone around."
Jordan Zimmerman, who came into the game batting .407 on the season, did not have a hit in regulation. He changed that with a one-out double in the bottom of the tenth off new Hoosier pitcher Thomas Belcher. The Spartans once again staved off the loss when Dan Durkin drove in Zimmerman, taking this contest to an 11th inning.
The Hoosiers opened the game up in the top of the eleventh. Keegan Baar allowed a hit and an error in his first three batters of the top of the eleventh, and ended up taking the loss. Baar's replacement, Andrew Gonzalez, gave up a two-run double to Indiana's Logan Sowers. Indiana took its largest lead of the game at 6-4.
After a second error by MSU and a failed suicide squeeze attempt by the Hoosiers, the Spartans substituted in their third pitcher of the inning and sixth of the day, freshman Riley McCauley, with two runners on and two out. Before closing out the inning, McCauley allowed a two-run double to Alex Krupa, increasing Indiana's lead to 8-4.
"You can't give a good team opportunities," Boss said. "They're on a roll, playing well right now...We needed to minimize the damage there at some point, and just didn't do it today."
The Spartans could not overcome the four-run deficit in the bottom of the eleventh against Thomas Belcher, who picked up the win. MSU moves down to third place in the Big Ten after the loss, while Indiana rises to fourth in the conference standings.
"The challenge is, how do we respond?" Boss said. "It's the first Big Ten series we've lost all year, the second series on the year, and I think we've played ten weekends now. Our guys have done a nice job right from the get-go."
The Spartans will have two days off to recover before a home contest against Toledo on Wednesday. Their next conference game will come on Friday, when they travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan. Boss said that the days off could prove helpful for the Spartans to work on issues he feels have cropped up recently.
"The question mark going into the year was consistency offensively, and we're starting to see that right now," Boss said. "Maybe playing one mid-week game will be good for us, and getting a couple days of practice in."
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