With a guaranteed berth in the Big Ten
tournament, the pressure was off of Michigan State on Senior Day, May 21. The Spartans' game was off as well, however, as a dreadful seventh inning saw the Spartans (34-18) lose
their advantage and give Maryland (28-25) the final 6-4 win.
Due to their place in the standings, the MSU
players and the fans in attendance at McLane Stadium could bask in the sunny,
70-degree weather and appreciate the accomplishments of the senior class,
regardless of the result. For many, the game was secondary.
“It was weird, you know,” Kris Simonton, a first-year senior
transfer from Akron, said. “The last national anthem, just a lot of lasts on
this field that I wish I got to experience a little more, but I had a great
time at Michigan State.”
It was a good afternoon for the Spartan seniors. In the win, Simonton had two hits, a double
and a triple, while scoring a run. Senior Justin Hovis brought him in for a run
the very next at-bat in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“It always feels good to contribute, especially during your
last game at McLane,” Hovis said.
Senior PJ Nowak also saw his second action of the year as a
ninth-inning pinch runner.
“PJ (Nowak) has had a tough year with injuries, but you
know, he’ll do whatever it takes to help our ball club win,” coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “And
that’s probably more impressive than what he could do on the field, or anybody
could do on the field.”
Boss Jr. acknowledged the end
of the season had finished less than ideally, but also that this game carried extra
significance. He lauded all of his seniors for their contributions to Michigan
State baseball throughout their careers.
The first run of the contest was a flashback to Friday's winner, as Brandon Hughes crossed the plate. As Dan Durkin skipped a single directly
over second base, Hughes was well on his way home once the throw was made.
In the bottom of the third, Michigan State swung for two
more runs. Hughes reached second after another single and a stolen base. Then Durkin stepped to the plate and delivered a staunch shot over the sloped, high
wall in right field, driving in two with one swing, his third RBI of the game.
Maryland reeled in the 3-0 lead in the fourth inning, with
two runs from Nick Dunn and Kevin Smith, batted in by Kevin Biondic and Nick
Cieri, respectively. Michigan State limited the damage, with Simonton’s run
coming at the bottom of the inning, making it 4-2. From then on, the Spartans
wouldn’t score, as Maryland’s ace, Brian Shaffer, showed the resiliency that
made him so reliable.
“We had some good swings on balls, but he had a good day
today,” Durkin said about Shaffer.
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At the top of the fifth inning, Maryland’s Marty Costes
reached first and was driven in by a Dunn double to left field. The Spartans
loaded the bases in turn during their half of the inning, but with one out and
Jordan Zimmerman at third base, neither Taylor Grace nor catcher Matt Byars capitalized on the opportunity.
In the seventh inning, the Spartans lost their way. Junior Cam
Vieaux took the mound in an uncommon bullpen role, inheriting runners at first
and third with two outs. His first pitch struck Smith at the plate and loaded
the bases. He consecutively hit pinch hitter Dan Maynard with another erratic
pitch, tying the game 4-4. Then Biondic confidently took the place and drove
in two runs with a right-field single, resulting in a large collision at home
plate following Zimmerman’s wayward homebound throw. Both Byars and Smith remained in the game.
Maryland entered the seventh-inning-stretch with a 6-4 lead
and held that score line until the game’s conclusion. For the Terrapins, the
game was more important than pageantry; with the win, they sealed their place
in the Big Ten tournament (13-11).
“There was no let-off,” Hovis said. “If they lost, I
don’t think they would have gotten into the (Big Ten) tournament.”
The Michigan State Spartans end the year 13-11 in Big Ten
play with a Tuesday, 4:30 a.m. trip planned to Omaha, Nebraska as a lower seed in the
Big Ten tournament. It is their third straight qualification. For Simonton, his
first big-time exposure will be special.
“Just from my perspective in college, I’ve never been on a team
with a winning record before this year,” Simonton said. “And starting out with
the best record in school history and we were there 'til the end in the Big Ten
race, so a pretty successful year, I think.”
Despite their struggles in recent weeks, there was no lack
of confidence for the Spartans as they prepare for the postseason. All players
guaranteed that they were confident and ready for whomever the encounter.
“Yeah, we’re confident. We’re ready to go,” Durkin said. “We’re
just going to come with a different mindset, ready for the tournament.”
One player went even further.
“We’re gonna go win it,” Hovis said.
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