After getting rained out on Friday, the MSU baseball team returned to McLane Baseball Stadium on Saturday with a doubleheader planned with the University of Minnesota to kick off the home leg of conference play.
MSU (15-8, 3-2 Big Ten) fell short in both attempts, as the Spartans fell in game one, 3-2, and lost another close game to fall 4-3 in the nightcap. Minnesota (17-8, 5-0 Big Ten) remains as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten.
"They got the better of us today," head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. "They executed when they needed to, we let a couple of opportunities slip away and that's how you get beat by a goof ballclub."
Redshirt-sophomore Alex Troop started on the mound in game one for MSU. Minnesota countered with left-hander Lucas Gilbreath for a pitching battle in the early stages of the Saturday day cap.
Both pitchers cruised through the first three innings and found trouble in the fourth. Right fielder Matt Stemper hit an infield single to start the three-run rally. Junior first baseman Zack McGuire was unable to pick the throw from sophomore shortstop Royce Ando out from the dirt.
Stemper advanced to second on a fielder's choice and Troop walked the next two batters to load the bases. Designated hitter Micah Coffey cleared the bases with a double off the berm in right field. After Coffey's double, Troop struck out second baseman Luke Pettersen to retire the side.
"I walked too many guys," Troop said. "I gave up a hit, it was the only inning that was really troublesome. Like I said, it wasn't good enough and that's clearly where it wasn't good enough."
The Spartans responded with two runs in the next frame to make it 3-2. Sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina and McGuire walked to start the attack in the home half of the fourth. Sophomore right fielder Dan Chmielewski flew out to right, but advanced Bechina to third on the play and Ando scored Bechina after slicing a single to right. One batter later, freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley blooped a fly ball on the left field foul line and McGuire scored from second.
"We had a lot of good at-bats, unfortunately we didn't take advantage of a couple of opportunities that we had," Boss said.
Both teams remained in gridlock before MSU attempted a comeback that fell short in the final inning. Chmielewski singled to left for his second hit of the day to lead off the inning. Kory Young pinch hit for Ando and laid down a sac bunt to advance Chmielewski. One batter later, Kelley struck out on a fastball up in the strike zone leaving it to Troop, who entered the game to pinch-hit for senior D.H. Taylor Grace.
Troop ran the count full but took a pitch on the outside corner for a strike. Game over.
Troop lasted 7.2 innings and struck out nine. All three runs allowed while pitching were earned and Troop now falls to 3-2 on the season. Gilbreath picked up his third win of the season after six complete innings. Brian Glowicki sealed the game for Minnesota and picked up his 10th save of the season.
"We played well at points, but obviously not well enough to win," Troop said. "It's unfortunate because we were so close in both games, but in the end a loss is a loss and we have to come out tomorrow and win."
Minnesota put up two runs in the second with the help of four-straight hits to start off the inning. Stemper and first baseman Toby Hanson led the inning off and stood at second and third for third baseman Jordan Kozicki. Kozicki brought both home with a 2-RBI single.
MSU once again cut the lead to one in the bottom half of the second. Troop started the inning with a walk and took two bases on a wild pitch. Kelley hit Troop home with a single to left and made it a 2-1 game.
The Golden Gophers added another one in the fifth inning to extend their lead, but the Spartans responded with a run in the bottom of the fifth inning to stay within striking distance. In the sixth, McGuire led off with a double off the wall in left field. McGuire advanced to third on a wild pitch and Kelley singled to even the game at three.
Minnesota found a way to manufacture one more in the 9th to chalk the game up after outfielder Jordan Smith singled off freshman relief pitcher Mitchell Tyranski to lead off the frame. Boss pulled Tyranski in favor of redshirt-sophomore Nathan Witt, who delivered a fielder's choice and gave up a hit to put runners on first and second with one out. Boss gave Witt the hook in favor of sophomore right-hander Riley McCauley who gave up a go-ahead single to Pettersen.
Witt (0-1) picked up his first decision of the season, while Glowicki came back out for the bottom of the 9th for his 11th save. Nick Lackney (2-0) picked up the win for the Golden Gophers.
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MSU will host Minnesota for the third and final game of the series on Sunday in an attempt to avoid the sweep on its home turf. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.
"We have to compete against a good ball club," Boss said. "They're the reigning Big Ten Champions from a year ago, there's a reason for that. Their head coach has over 1,200 wins, there's a reason for that. ... There's a lot of positives from today but at the end of the day you get beat and that's what matters."
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