After playing 14 games on the road in warmer climates, the 4-10 Spartans will make their first appearance at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15 against Niagara University.
Redshirt senior right-handed pitcher Ethan Landon said the young Spartans on the team who are beginning their first season in major roles are still figuring out ways to be successful.
“We’re young,” Landon said. “We’ve got a lot young guys in important positions, and we played some really good competition. I think our struggles (helped us) learn a lot about our team and I think it’s going to help us forward in the Big Ten.”
The Spartans already lost to Fresno State, Pepperdine, Washington, UCLA, No. 10 Clemson and Furman. They gained their small victories after they faced Arizona and earned one win against Illinois, along with another loss to the team.
Head coach Jake Boss Jr. said beginning the first few weeks of the season on the road is a challenge for the team to adjust to, along with a slow offense.
“We played a tough schedule early, so that has been a bit of a challenge for us I think,” Boss said. “Offensively, we haven’t swung the bat very well, admittedly, right out of the gate.”
Landon currently leads the team with 24.1 innings pitched and second in batters struck out with 25. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Mitchell Tyranski ranks second on the team with 0.64 earned run average and a .143 opposing batting average.
Redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Mason Erla leads the Spartan pitchers with two wins out of his four starts into the 14-game season after coming off a season-ending injury which only allowed him to play two games last year.
“Personally, I did not have any expectations for myself this year coming from a pretty bad injury,” Erla said. “I’m just doing my part to give the team a chance to win.”
Sophomore infielder/outfielder Justin Antoncic leads the team with a .354 batting average, a .542 slugging average, eight total runs this season and 17 hits. He appeared in nine games last season as a pinch runner and earned two runs for the season.
Sophomore outfielder and left-handed pitcher Bryce Kelley, who led the team last season with a .353 batting average, currently ranks sixth this season with a .217 batting average, four runs and four walks.
“A lot of it is a result of having a tough schedule and being on the road,” Boss said. “It’s certainly not easy and it’s not an excuse but typically we started off very well.”
Last season, the Spartans missed the Big Ten Tournament after they were eliminated after a 2-1 extra-innings loss to University of Michigan on May 20, the last game of the season.
Landon describes the unsatisfying loss as a momentum to this team to perform better to get back into the tournament by getting ahead of their opponents and being able to close out their games.
“That’s definitely motivation for us, because it’s never a good feeling sitting at home watching on a TV of the Big Ten Tournament,” Landon said. “We definitely need to work on our closing out games better … close games we need to find extra runs. We need to make extra plays and stuff like that to help us down the stretch.”
The first pitch for the Spartans' first home game at McLane Baseball Stadium is scheduled for a 3:05 p.m. start. The home series will last from Thursday to Sunday.
Last season, the team won 10 games on their home field, and members believe that their home field advantage can make a difference going into the middle of the season.
“I guess it is an advantage,” Erla said. “We’ll have our home crowd. It will be nice getting on the field here in front of them and having them cheer us on.”
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