Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU baseball's dominant fourth inning helps defeat Evansville 11-3 in game one of series

March 16, 2024
<p>Freshman infielder No. 13 Landen Lozier calmly dives into first base as the pitcher performs a pick-off move during the MSU baseball team’s home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.</p>

Freshman infielder No. 13 Landen Lozier calmly dives into first base as the pitcher performs a pick-off move during the MSU baseball team’s home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.

Photo by Matthew Williams | The State News

Michigan State baseball kicked off its home opener of the season with an 11-3 win against Evansville at McLane Stadium on night one of the three-game series.

On the mound to begin the game was southpaw Joseph Dzierwa, who came into the game 1-1 with a 3.86 earned runs average, or ERA. On the other side, the Evansville Purple Aces trotted out right-hander Nick Smith, who came into the game 0-2 with a 9.42 ERA. 

Dzierwa started out his performance hot, striking out two of his first three batters in the first inning, both on breaking balls. In the bottom half of the inning, the Spartans came out hitting. Infielder Ryan McKay got a double to bring in the first run of the game. Soon after, infielder Dillon Kark drove in both McKay and outfielder Nick Williams with a double that brought in two runs, making it 3-0 to end the first inning.

Dzierwa continued to pitch well, striking out two more, but the Spartan bats went out quietly in the second inning.

The top of the third inning began with another Dzierwa strikeout. And then, with one out, Evansville infielder Brodie Peart hit a rocket home run, putting the Purple Aces on the scoreboard. This, however, was only one of the three hits that Dzierwa gave up throughout the game. Dzierwa was able to get out of the inning and limit the Evansville offense after hitting a batter and allowing no more hits. McKay singled and stole second to try and start a two-out rally, but he was left on base after a strikeout to end the third inning. 

Dzierwa made quick work of the Purple Aces in the top of the fourth, striking out one and retiring the side in order for the third time in four innings. The bottom half of the fourth inning is when Michigan State succeeded the most. Infielder Sam Busch led it off with a hit to right field for a single. A bunt and sacrifice fly later, outfielder Jack Frank hit an RBI single into right field to make it 4-1 MSU and stole a base right after.

Catcher/DH Christian Williams then hit one through the hole to drive in a run and make it 5-1 Michigan State. Next up, Nick Williams muscled an opposite-field three-run home run to right field to bring the score to 8-1, Michigan State leading. McKay then singled one again, preceded by a Kark single, which prompted a Purple Aces pitching change. Relief came in the form of right-hander Ethan Bell, who escaped the inning on Busch’s second at-bat of the inning. 

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Junior outfielder No. 10 Nick Williams watches his first home run of the season sail over the fence at McLane Baseball Stadium during the MSU baseball team’s home opener vs. the University of Evansville on March 15, 2024.

Dzierwa went three-up-three-down once again in the fifth inning, tossing a one-hitter to that point in the game. The slugging Spartans managed to load the bases but fizzled out after a Christian Williams strikeout and a Nick Williams ground out with the bases loaded.

Dzierwa remained on the mound in the sixth inning and got through allowing no hits and a walk, striking out one. The Spartan offense went down quietly in the bottom of the sixth.

In the top of the eighth inning, Dzierwa gave up a home run to infielder Kip Fougerousse, which brought the score to 8-2. Later that inning, the Spartans decided to have a pitching change, ending Dzierwa's dominant start in which he gave up just three hits, two earned runs and struck out eight batters in almost eight full innings. He lowered his ERA on the season to 3.49 with two wins and one loss.

Right-hander Noah Matheny came in from the bullpen to relieve him, where he retired both batters he faced, striking out one to conclude the top half of the inning. Left-hander Jace Kressin came in for the Purple Aces to start the bottom of the eighth, relieving Fieger. Later that inning, catcher Sam Thompson singled up the middle for a two-out, two RBI single, which brought the score to 11-2 in favor of the Spartans.

Matheny remained on the mound to start the ninth and final inning to close out the game. He walked the first batter and induced a double play just after. Matheny then gave up a soft single to left and an RBI double to the next batter, bringing the score to 11-3 Spartans. Matheny was then able to control the rest of the inning and conclude the game with a final score of 11-3.

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Senior infielder No. 2 Dillon Kark slides into second base with some flare during the MSU baseball team’s home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.

Standouts

McKay went 3-5 with an RBI and a steal, bringing his batting average to .385 on the season. Nick Williams went 1-5 with one RBI and hit his second home run of the season; he is now hitting .328. Kark went 2-5 with two RBIs and brought his batting average to .344.

The biggest story, though, was the dominance of Dzierwa, who threw 106 pitches in his 2024 home debut. The presence of his breaking ball, coupled with his fastball, was his forte, especially in this game. Going up against Evansville, however, he had a different game plan against the hitters. 

“Coach Vanny calls pitches, and I think (he) called a very good game today. I love pitching for him," Dzierwa said. "I think throwing a lot of off-speed was good for me because I think I've been dominant (with fastballs) in the past.”

From last season to this one, Dzierwa has changed the mechanics of his pitching, a factor that has helped him so far this season.

“I think fixing my mechanics over in the offseason, really grinding this winter too, has helped me kind of put a little less stress on the body," Dzierwa said. "I'm throwing harder now, too.”

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Sophomore pitcher No. 16Joseph Dzierwa delivers a pitch during the MSU baseball team’s home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.

The Spartans will face off against Evansville on Saturday, March 16, at 3:35 p.m. in East Lansing and again on Sunday, March 17, at 1:05 p.m.

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