Alex Troop flirted with history Thursday.
In a pivotal three-game series for the Spartans (29-21, 10-12 Big Ten), the redshirt-sophomore lefty held the rival Wolverines hitless through six innings and hurled eight innings of two-hit ball in MSU’s 6-1 win over No. 15 Michigan (40-13, 14-8 Big Ten) to take game one.
Wolverine starter Alec Rennard retired the side in the first inning with ease, including two strikeouts. After walking senior second baseman Dan Durkin to lead off the second, Rennard struck out the next two batters before allowing the next four batters to reach in the inning.
With critical seeding in the Big Ten Tournament in mind, Troop said he knew he had to deliver a stellar performance. Coming into the contest MSU was No. 9 in the conference standings — on the fringe of postseason contention.
A sweep over the rival Wolverines could potentially land the Spartans in seventh place.
"You bring your heart out to the field,” Troop said about the big game scenario. “You pitch with a lot of motivation because you know what we’ve worked for this whole season and where we want to go and this was a game we needed to win to get there.”
Back-to-back hits from junior first baseman Zack McGuire and Dan Chmielewski pushed MSU’s first run across. A passed ball scored McGuire and a two-RBI double from junior outfielder Brandon Hughes capped off a four run second.
Troop struck out six through his first three innings of work, with soft contact resulting in easy outs for the field. Troop received more padding in the fourth after sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina launched his seventh home run of the year to lead off the frame.
“I thought everybody was locked in and really focused,” MSU head coach Jake Boss said. “I thought the guys came with a business-like approach today and there was no screwing around before the game."
For 5.1 innings, Troop flirted with perfection before designated hitter Jimmy Kerr scorched a liner off of Bechina’s glove to become U-M’s first baserunner of the game. Luckily for Troop, it was ruled an error.
From the stretch, Troop struck out Harrison Wenson and threw out Ako Thomas, who attempted to reach on a bunt.
“Everything felt good,” Troop said. “The fastball, changeup, slider, everything worked great and overall it turned out to be a big win for us.”
Johnny Slater broke up Troop’s no-hitter in the 7th with a soft liner to center to lead off the inning. Mike Brdar followed suit with a first pitch knock up the middle and Drew Lugbauer moved the runners over with a groundout deep in the hole to second. Troop retired the next two batters to retire the side, and escaped with minimal damage after Thomas came into score on a sacrifice fly to center to cut MSU’s lead, 5-1.
"It’s what our number one has to do for us,” Boss said. “I thought his no-hitter through six was great ... and he didn’t have too many three ball counts either, but more importantly he went deep into the game. He saved the bullpen for another day and we’re in a situation right now where we have to take care of our business and the more bullets we have in the bullpen, the better."
Freshman closer Riley McCauley came in to close out the ninth after McGuire went deep in the eighth. McCauley retired the side in order with two strikeouts.
Rennard’s day was done after four innings, as he was pegged for all five runs and falls to 6-2 on the season. Troop finished his 113-pitch outing after eight innings, and was charged with one run on two hits while striking out 10 and walking one to improve to 8-3 on the season.
MSU will travel to Ann Arbor for game two of the series Saturday. Redshirt-junior right-hander Jake Lowery (2-3, 3.00 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Spartans. U-M will counter with southpaw Oliver Jaskie (7-2, 2.99 ERA).
First pitch from the Wilpon Complex is slated for 6 p.m.
"We know we’re not even close to being done,” Troop said. “We have to take two more. Hopefully Purdue and Northwestern struggle a little bit this weekend so we know what we have to do and we have to be ready for that.”
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