The Michigan State baseball team used a dramatic sixth inning comeback to defeat Minnesota on Friday.
Down two runs in the ninth inning Saturday, the Spartans did it again this time taking a 9-7 lead, but then ultimately falling 10-9 in the bottom of the inning with two outs to Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Following two scoreless innings thrown by starting pitchers Adam Berghorst and Jack Liffrig, Minnesota opened up the scoring in the bottom of the third on a one-run RBI single by designated hitter Cody Kelly.
The Spartans responded immediately though in the top of the fourth inning thanks to the bat of senior centerfield man Joe Stewart. On a full count, he took Liffrig deep on an opposite field blast to right field, his team-leading third homerun of the season.
Then MSU loaded the bases with their next three batters on a walk and two singles. Redshirt catcher freshman Gabe Sotres hit a sacrifice fly to center scoring freshman outfielder Jack Frank, then a groundout by third baseman Zach Iverson added on another run to make it 3-1 MSU.
Berghorst was pulled from the game to start out the bottom of the fourth, finishing the day with three innings pitched, three hits, two walks and one earned run on 44 pitches. He was replaced by senior Sam Benschoter, who struggled mightily giving up three runs to give the Gophers the lead again, 4-3.
After failing to score in the top of the fifth, Minnesota broke the game open with three more runs added to their lead. Junior Jordan Beatson replaced Benschoter to start the inning, but he too was not the answer the green and white were looking for. It started out with a leadoff shot to right by redshirt senior Jack Wassel. A pair of RBI singles by freshman Brett Bateman and sophomore Drew Stahl added to the lead, giving Minnesota a 7-3 advantage.
Again, MSU responded with two runs off of a pinch hit two-run RBI triple by redshirt sophomore Peter Ahn to cut the lead in half. The two teams would go scoreless for the next two and a half innings, leading into the final inning with the Spartans down 7-5.
The Spartans got to work quickly making damage with no outs. Frank knocked in the first run on an in-field single, followed by a double into the gap in left center field off the bat of sophomore Zaid Walker that gave MSU an 8-7 lead. Michigan State got a run of insurance with a double to deep right field by Sotres that scored Walker after he stole third base.
Head coach Jake Boss Jr. brought in sophomore Burrell Jones to close out the game, who looked solid in his first three batters. First, he struck out Bateman, who had three RBIs on the afternoon, allowed a single, and then flew out Kelly to center field. Now with two outs, a double by junior Chase Stanke put two runners in scoring position.
Redshirt freshman William Christophersen replaced Jones on the mound, who would fail to get an out. A single by Wassel scored two runs to tie the game at nine, who was then moved over to second on a walk. Junior left fielder Andrew Wilhite was the hero, singling to left center on an even count as Wassel crossed home plate to send the green and white home in walk-off fashion.
“We did not play well enough to win and that’s the bottom line,” Boss Jr. said. “We were playing with fire yesterday and we were lucky to come away with one. At this level of college baseball you can’t get away with it every day ... The game is 27 outs long. You've got to get 27 outs to win it, and we only got 26 today.”
All around, the Spartans’ pitching and defense was a disaster giving up 18 hits and three errors as part of the 10 runs by Minnesota. However, the Gophers left 16 batters on base in part to an insightful performance by freshman Dominic Hann who was the only MSU pitcher to not give up a run.
“For a freshman to come in and do that and kind of calm things down after we had a couple upperclassmen come in and almost throw gas on the fire it seemed to be,” Boss Jr. said. “That was disappointing, but happy for Dom that he threw well. When guys throw well they are going to get more opportunities and that’s kind of where we are at right now.”
The Spartans are going to need more consistency and gutsy performances like what was demonstrated by Hann Saturday to avoid more blown wins like this. The bats were there, but the pitching was not. Michigan State has a chance to change that tomorrow as they take on Minnesota in the rubber match at 2 p.m. on BTN+.
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