Head coach Jake Boss Jr. knew he needed to shake things up after dropping the first two games of a three-game series to the University of Minnesota in Saturday’s doubleheader.
The Spartans (15-9 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) lost the first two games by a run apiece and had a chance to get to Minnesota (18-8 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) starter Toby Anderson.
Anderson (4-2 record) entered the game with a 7.64 ERA in six appearances, so instinctively Boss said he switched up the starting lineup to bolster the bats to get away with a win.
Boss slid freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley to the leadoff spot and shifted everybody else down a spot in the batting order. Boss said junior first baseman Zack McGuire — a .286 hitter — was moved down to the seven-spot to provide a spark at the bottom of the lineup.
“Minnesota is a good ballclub,” Boss said. “That’s what was so disappointing about yesterday and so frustrating about yesterday. We felt like we were right there and had our chances. ... Today they just beat us.”
Boss’ shakeup did stir up the offense for four runs, but MSU’s pitching was unable to hold up its end of the bargain, as the Golden Gophers completed the sweep at McLane Baseball Stadium to the tune of a 9-4 victory.
The Spartans tied the game at one run apiece in the third and took their first lead of the series in the fourth after a single from sophomore outfielder Dan Chmielewski scored senior second baseman Dan Durkin and redshirt-sophomore designated hitter Alex Troop for a 3-1 lead.
Boss left it to junior right-hander Andrew Gonzalez (2-1 record) to start on the mound and help MSU avoid the sweep, but lasted just 51 pitches and was pulled after four innings. Gonzalez only allowed one run through the first four frames, but back-to-back hits to start the fifth inning sparked a rally for Minnesota and tied the game 3-3.
Senior reliever Joe Mockbee was called in for Gonzalez and was touched up for one run on eight pitches and senior right-hander Walter Borkovich finished the fifth and pitched two more innings while allowing two runs in the sixth to make it 6-3.
“I don’t know if our guys played poorly but we didn’t play well enough to win,” Boss said. “It’s a good lesson for us, I think. We have to stay together and we have a chance to right the ship on Tuesday.”
Mockbee was handed the loss and falls to 3-2 on the season. This was Mockbee’s third appearance of the weekend.
“I put Joe Mockbee in a tough spot today asking him to go for the third game in a row,” Boss said. “And that’s on me. Joe gave us everything he had. His stuff just wasn’t good enough today.”
MSU added one more in the bottom of the sixth, but Minnesota dealt the final blow in the eighth. Junior Keegan Baar came on and was charged with two runs after facing three batters to make it 8-4. Minnesota added insult to injury and added another run in the ninth.
“Our bullpen for the first time all year was a little shaky today, but I’ll take this group over any guys in the country,” Boss said.
The Spartans have been held to single-figure run totals the last four games since combining to score 41 in last weekend’s three-game sweep over Illinois. Even with the struggles at the plate Boss said he thinks the offense will find itself again soon.
"We knew going into the year offensive consistency was a question mark for us and I guess the last week has been a microcosm of that and the entire year last year,” Boss said. “We need to get back to a better approach at the plate that will allow us to be more consistent and I think we can learn a lot from what we saw out of their (Minnesota’s) dugout today.”
This is the first time all season MSU has lost four games in a row. Boss told his team after the game not to worry, however, because adversity is a part of the process and everybody goes through it throughout the course of a college baseball season.
“I told them in 2011, the second-to-last weekend of the year we got swept at Indiana and ended up still winning a Big Ten Championship,” Boss said. “So we have a long way to go and there’s still a lot to play for, but like I said it’s back to work tomorrow and we have to get ourselves right.”
Up next for MSU will be a midweek matchup against Eastern Michigan University (8-18 overall) in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Tuesday before hosting Fresno State for a three-game slate next weekend.
“We place a high priority on winning the mythical state title,” Boss said. “We have a chance to beat Eastern Michigan Tuesday night and we need to play well to do that.”