The annual Crosstown Showdown between Michigan State baseball and the Lansing Lugnuts took place at Cooley Law School Stadium on Tuesday evening. The evening’s activities included their annual home run derby, and ended with a seven-inning exhibition game between the two teams, in which the Spartans were downed by a score of 6-4.
“They kinda got their feet wet,” said the Spartans’ head coach Jake Boss Jr. He went on to say, “I think a lot of guys really threw well. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of positives we can take away.”
Getting the start on the mound for the Spartans was junior Mike Mokma, who appeared in 19 games last season, pitching to a 4.66 ERA (earned run average) over 56 innings for the Spartans. Mokma ran into trouble in the second inning, letting up a single to Lugnuts’ shortstop Vinny Capra with one out. Two batters later, catcher Jose Ferrer slapped one into the gap in right-center for an RBI (run batted in) triple, giving the Lugnuts a 1-0 lead in the early innings.
The Lugnuts would cross the plate three more times in the very next inning. With one out and the bases full, third baseman Miguel Hiraldo skied a pitch to center field deep enough to score the runner at third, giving his team a two-run lead. The next batter, first baseman Bryan Lizardo doubled to left field to score a pair, making the score 4-0 in favor of the Lugnuts.
The Spartans would remain hitless until the top of the fourth, when third baseman Zach Iverson slapped a pitch back up the middle for a leadoff single. However, Iverson would remain stranded at first base as the next three hitters would go down in order to end the inning.
The Lugnuts tacked on one more in the bottom half of the fourth. With two runners on and two away, infielder Brandon Grudzielanek came on to pinch hit and lined one into center field to score the runner from second base, moving the Lugnuts’ run total up to five.
MSU responded in the top half of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded from two walks and a hit batter, freshman outfielder Zaid Walker sent a pitch to center field to score a pair of Spartans home runs, cutting their deficit to three runs.
The Spartans would not go down quietly in the seventh inning. With the bases loaded, freshman outfielder Joe Stewart picked up his second two-RBI knock of the game, lining one to left field and to again cut into the Lugnuts’ lead.
Walker would finish the night two-for-four with four RBIs.
“I hope this is the start of a great Spartan career,” said Walker. “It’s a confidence booster, it let’s me know I can play with these guys.”
MSU was unable to capitalize further, as the last two batters would be retired on strikes to end the ballgame at 6-4 in favor of the Lugnuts.
Proctor wins second-straight home run derby
The evening kicked off with the Crosstown Showdown's annual home run derby. Representing the Spartans was freshman Zaid Walker, junior Andrew Morrow and last year’s champion, sophomore Adam Proctor.
The first round of the derby ended in a three way tie for the three Spartans, each ending the round with four home runs. After an additional tiebreaker round, Proctor would move on to the championship round to face Lugnuts’ outfielder Freddy Rodriguez.
Proctor came out victorious, launching seven home runs in the championship round to top Rodriguez’s six, claiming his second-consecutive Crosstown Showdown home run derby crown.
“It was a dog fight for sure,” said Boss Jr. He went on to say, “It goes to the whole atmosphere of the night.”
Freshman showing promise
Of the Spartans’ five hits, four of them were off the bats of freshman. Redshirt freshman Peter Ahn laced a single down the first base line in the sixth inning after coming on in the fifth to play third base for Iverson.
Another freshman who joined in was catcher Gabe Sotres, who sent a pitch back up the middle for a knock in the seventh inning after taking over defensive duties behind the plate in the previous inning. Sotres would go on to score later in the inning.
The biggest impact on the field by any Spartan was made by Walker, who drove in all four MSU runs on a pair of knocks. His first hit, two-run single, came in the top of the fifth inning to give the Spartans their first runs of the game. Later, in the seventh inning, the outfielder singled to left field to collect his third and fourth RBIs of the night.
“The tools are certainly there,” said Boss Jr. on Walker. “He’s going to be a fun one to have around for a couple years.”
Walker, who got the start in center field is expected to contribute regularly in the upcoming season for the Spartans.