Western Michigan blew out Michigan State 18-7 in a game that saw the Spartans fall behind almost immediately and failed to come back in any meaningful fashion.
Sophomore shortstop Mitch Jebb (3-4, 4 RBIs, 2 walks) was the lone bright spot for the Spartans while Western Michigan freshman right fielder Dylan Nevar (4-6, 5 RBIs, two home runs) served as the dynamo for the Broncos, coming a single shy of hitting for the cycle.
Michigan State turned in another dismal pitching performance, using seven different pitchers after sophomore Harrison Cook’s (0.2 innings pitched, six hits, seven unearned runs, 9.85 ERA) disastrous first inning. Junior pitcher Jack Brockhaus (2.1 innings pitched, two hits, one run, 3.97 ERA) and freshman pitcher Ryan Szczepaniak (one inning pitched, zero hits, zero runs, 4.88 ERA) were the only two Spartan pitchers to record clean frames.
In light of the loss, Michigan State Head Coach Jake Boss lamented his team’s inconsistency and said he was disappointed that his team wasn’t “ready” for the challenge provided.
“We have a hard time finishing innings,” he said. “We have a hard time finishing at-bats. Tonight was another example of that.”
Like a handful of prior games this season, Michigan State’s early meltdown started inauspiciously enough. After mowing down junior shortstop Jimmy Allen for the opening strikeout, Cook let up a hard liner to third from senior second baseman Justin McIntyre. Sophomore third baseman Dillon Kark bobbled the ball and failed to make the throw to first, giving Western Michigan their first base runner of the game.
From there, the onslaught happened quickly. Senior left fielder Connor Charping and junior third baseman Gavin Doyle followed up with a pair of singles, the latter scoring McIntyre. Cook left a fastball right over the plate and sophomore first baseman Cade Sullivan made the most of it with a double that smacked the right field wall. Redshirt sophomore center fielder Will Morrison pulled another double into left center. Sophomore designated hitter Josh Swinehart singled. And with two outs, a full count and runners on the corners, sophomore catcher Greg Budig hit a looper to center to bring everybody home.
When it was all said and done, it was 6-0 Western Michigan in the top of the first, a gloomy day suddenly turned into a miserable one for the Spartans. Boss pulled Cook in favor of Brockhaus, tasked with closing out a brutal inning, Brockhaus promptly gave up a double to Allen that scored Budig, bumping Michigan State’s early deficit up to seven. After 35 minutes, junior right fielder Zaid Walker caught a tall pop fly from McIntyre to put a cap on a disastrous top of the first.
“We’re searching for some answers on the mound,” Boss said of his team’s pitching. “We were searching going (into) tonight and I feel like we’re still searching for some answers there.”
The bottom of the first held some promise when Webb and sophomore second baseman Trent Farquhar led off with a pair of singles exclusively off sophomore pitcher Nick Crandell’s off-speed pitches. With zero outs, all the Spartans needed was one swing of the bat from sophomore center fielder Jack Frank, the team’s leader in home runs, to completely flip a bad start on its head.
That one swing? It only served to further humiliate Michigan State. Frank rocketed a ball to Sullivan for the first out, forced Farquhaur on the basepaths for the second and whipped it over to second for the tag on Jebb. Western’s dugout erupted as the crowd seemed to question if what just happened actually did.
And it did: a rare triple play. Not only had the Broncos batted through once, they’d put Michigan State down in improbable fashion.
“I don’t chalk this up to being one of those days,” Boss said. “I’m not a big believer in that. I think you create your own opportunities or miss your own opportunities. We certainly didn’t create enough opportunities, we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that we had.”
Brockhaus returned for the second and third innings, giving up a towering home run to Nevar in the second before settling in to post Michigan State’s first scoreless frame in the third. In the bottom of the inning, the Spartans finally broke through after Jebb’s bases-loaded single to right scored senior designated hitter Zach Iverson and redshirt freshman catcher Bryan Broecker for their first two runs of the day.
Western yanked Crandell after and brought in redshirt freshman pitcher Joe Shapiro, who struck out Frank and Walker swinging to end the inning and strand three on base. The Broncos wasted little time slugging back with Nevar’s second homer in the fourth, a two-run shot off Andrew Carson, before Michigan State tacked on two more off redshirt junior first baseman Peter Ahn’s triple and Jebb’s single through the right gap to make it 10-4 Western Michigan.
But once again, a simple error led to another brutal Broncos run. After Kark allowed Budig to reach first on another bobbled ball, redshirt freshman pitcher Dominic Pianto gave up five runs on four hits as the heart of Western Michigan’s lineup pounded away at anything and everything he gave them. The slugfest ended after Swinehart grounded out to short with the Spartans finding themselves in an 11 run hole.
Michigan State’s offense withered for the next three innings until they waged a futile last minute comeback in the bottom of the ninth. Down 18-4 with the rain falling as hard as it had all day, the Spartans put up three runs with two outs on the strength of Broecker’s single to left center and Jebb’s bases loaded walk. The ill-timed rally ended after Farquhar popped up for the final out and the Spartans fell to Western Michigan 18-7.
Michigan State returns to action on Friday against Michigan at Jackson Field in Lansing, MI. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
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