Michigan State kept its hot season going this weekend with a three-game sweep of Western Illinois in East Lansing. The Spartans are now winners of six in a row and sit at 23-10.
MSU was dominant on both ends during Saturday’s doubleheader, outscoring Western Illinois 23-3. But perhaps of equal importance, zero errors were committed by Michigan State on the day after it made six during Friday night’s narrow victory.
“It was great,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said of the cleaned up defensive play. “That's what all these guys are capable of.”
It was all defense to start Game 1, resulting in two quick scoreless innings. The first threat of the afternoon came in the top of the third. The Leathernecks put two runners on thanks to a pair of singles. After a stolen base, second and third base were occupied, but MSU junior pitcher Harrison Cook forced a groundout to get out of the jam.
In the bottom half of the third, the Spartans broke through. Graduate student catcher Sam Thompson unloaded on a 2-0 count and gave a ball a ride to deep left field for a home run to give MSU a 1-0 lead early on.
The Spartans began to find their rhythm in the bottom of the fourth inning. Junior outfielder Jack Frank added a two-run shot of his own that got over the tall right field fence for a home run, adding two more scores to extend the lead to 3-0 in favor of MSU. Two at-bats later, following a walk, senior outfielder Casey Mayes singled to right center field, bringing home a fourth run.
With still only one out, redshirt junior outfielder Greg Ziegler smoked a ball up the middle and passed the outstretched glove of the second baseman for an RBI single to bring home Mayes, and the fourth run of the inning.
For the third-straight inning, the Spartan bats were rolling. In the bottom of the fifth, Frank doubled down the right field line all the way to the fence to bring home a runner from second base to make the game 6-0. Shortly after, Mayes recorded his second RBI single of the game to bring two more runners home.
Western Illinois finally got on the board in the top of the sixth inning. Redshirt junior catcher J.R. Heavilin drove a ball to left field that forced a diving catch play for Mayes that resulted in a sacrifice fly to make the score 8-1.
Cook’s day on the mound came to an end in the top of the seventh after allowing a hit and a runner to advance to third. Cook finished with 6.2 innings pitched, one run allowed, three strikeouts and only six hits given up.
With runners on the corners, redshirt sophomore pitcher Noah Matheny substituted in to get out of the inning. Matheny walked the first batter he saw, loading the bases to give the Leathernecks a prime position to cut the deficit. In a full count, Matheny walked sophomore outfielder Nick Mitchell to give WIU a run. Fortunately for the Spartans, Matheny only allowed one score and got out of the jam in the next at bat.
MSU added a ninth run in the seventh inning. Ziegler stole second base, which attracted WIU junior catcher Adam Juran to throw at the runner. In the meantime, redshirt sophomore Sam Busch stole home to make it a 9-2 ball game. Soon after, junior infielder Mitch Jebb ripped a ball off the top of the wall in right field to bring home the run.
The Spartans walked the game off in the seventh, thanks to a double from junior infielder Brock Vradenburg that scored two more runs, giving MSU a victory with the mercy rule by a score of 12-2.
Michigan State was one run away from initiating the mercy rule but had to wait an extra hour to reach the 10-run marker.
The Spartans were leading 10-1 in the top of the eighth, but rain and lightning quickly moved over McLane Stadium. An hour and four minute rain delay ensued, slowing down MSU’s eventual 11-1 win and series sweep over Western Illinois.
Junior Nick Powers started on the mound for MSU, serving 7.2 spectacular innings before being removed after the weather delay.
Vradenburg, who ranks at the top of numerous Big Ten batting categories, continued to mash and produce runs. He’s accumulated 15 runs in the last 10 games, two of which came in Game 2. Broecker also was a star at the plate, going 4-for-4 with a solo home run and an RBI single in the seventh inning.
“We're deeper than we were a year ago,” Boss said. “We're probably not as deep as we'd like to be just yet. But credit to our guys, I thought they handled five games in five days pretty well.”
The Spartans raced Western Illinois starting pitcher Caden Kratz out after just three innings. He surrendered three runs on 56 pitches, two of which came on back-to-back solo home runs in the second inning.
Western Illinois got on the board first on a pair of second inning doubles into the left field corner. Sophomore outfielder Ricky Pospisil drove in junior catcher Adam Juran on a roping line drive that just skipped over the third base bag.
Michigan State responded quickly in the bottom half of the inning, taking the lead on back-to-back home runs. Redshirt sophomore catcher Bryan Broecker began the raid with a bomb over the scoreboard in left field. Frank followed suit with a homer of his own curving over the right field fence.
Broecker’s home run was his third of the series after hitting two on Friday night’s win. Frank’s was his second of the day and his fifth RBI of the series.
Michigan State extended its lead to 3-1 in the third on a dribbling ground ball from Vradenburg that scored junior infielder Trent Farquhar from third.
Junior Aron Harrington relieved Kratz after the third inning, providing two scoreless innings until MSU rallied again in the sixth inning. Vradenburg began the inning with a walk, then advanced to third on a Broecker single. Frank delivered a double to score Vradenburg, followed by a balk from Harrington that scored Brocker from third. MSU rounded out the scoring on an RBI groundout from Ziegler.
MSU got to Harrington again in the seventh inning on an RBI double from Vradenburg that scored Jebb. Harrington was removed from the game, but Michigan State tallied three more runs in the inning off three straight singles to make it 10-1.
Powers was cruising through the eighth inning but rain and lightning forced a weather delay. Freshman Nolan Higgins replaced Powers once the game resumed and made the final out of the inning.
The Spartans closed the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single from Farquhar. It scored freshman infielder Randy Seymour, who got on-base with his first career hit and also scored his first career run.
Michigan State will host Purdue Fort Wayne on Wednesday night before traveling to Ann Arbor for a three-game weekend series at Michigan.