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MSU baseball falls to Nebraska in last home series of regular season, misses out on Big Ten Tournament

May 18, 2024
Spartan baseball players in the dugut direct senior outfielder Jack Frank (21) to home plate during a game against University of Nebraska at McLane Stadium on May 17, 2024.
Spartan baseball players in the dugut direct senior outfielder Jack Frank (21) to home plate during a game against University of Nebraska at McLane Stadium on May 17, 2024.

In its final regular season series, the Michigan State baseball team hosted the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a three-game home series. With two losses, the Spartans’ record fell to 24-27 overall, 11-13 in Big Ten play and 13-10 at home.

The weekend was Nebraska's first visit to East Lansing since 2021 and the second time in the last three years the two teams played in the final weekend of the regular season.

Game One

Michigan State came up short against Nebraska 2-1 loss in the first game of the three-game series.

Harrison Cook was the starting pitcher for Michigan State, who came into the game with a 2-2 record and a 5.87 earned run average, or ERA. His counterpart was Brett Sears of Nebraska, who entered the game with a perfect 7-0 record and a 2.11 earned run average, or ERA.

The Spartans came out aggressive on offense in the bottom of the first inning, starting with Jack Frank's single to right field. Frank is Michigan State's hit leader of the season so far (74), and he has one of the best batting averages on the team. Dillon Kark, an offensive powerhouse, followed Frank's at-bat with a single to right field, which allowed Frank to advance to third base. Greg Ziegler, who leads the team in batting average (.376), then hit a sacrifice fly towards right field, allowing Frank to score and putting the Spartans on the scoreboard with an early 1-0 lead.

At the top of the third inning, Nebraska's Rhett Stokes, the second-best batting average player on the team (.341), hit a double near the right-field line. The next batter, Joshua Overbeek, hit a double that allowed Stokes to score, tying the game up at 1-1. Overbeek's hit led to his 18th run batted in, or RBI, of the season. 

During the next inning, Nebraska got a walk, hit-by-pitch and a single, which brought a run in to make it 2-1 in for the Cornhuskers. 

The rest of the game was quiet offensively, as MSU only had four more hits after Nebraska's final run. The Cornhuskers got five hits, but neither team could bring in a run.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, two Spartans grounded out and one flew out, ending the game in a 2-1 loss.

Cook pitched six full innings before being pulled, then the Spartans brought in Nolan Higgins. Cook tallied four strikeouts, walked three batters and gave up two runs and five hits. Higgins pitched the last three innings and gave up just three hits and walked two batters but didn't give up any runs.

Michigan State's one-run game added to its winless record when scoring two or fewer runs in a game, now 0-8.  

Game Two

Michigan State's starting pitcher was Joseph Dzierwa, who entered the game with a 6-2 record and a 3.86 ERA. Mason McConnaughey started for Nebraska, who, similarly, went into the game with a 6-3 record and a 3.09 ERA.

In the top of the first inning, Nebraska gained momentum early on after Cayden Brumbaugh, the leadoff batter, hit a single to right field before stealing second base during the next at-bat, making it his 12th of the season. Then, Josh Caron hit a two-run home run to extend his team-leading totals of 54 RBIs and 10 home runs on the season; the score was 2-0 in favor of Nebraska.

To start the top of the second inning, Nebraska got a walk and a single before Brumbaugh got his second hit of the game, which brought in one run and led a runner to third base. 

Dzierwa threw a wild pitch during the next at-bat, allowing another run to score. The Cornhuskers then hit a blooper single to left field, bringing in a run to make it 5-0 for Nebraska.

After five consecutive scoreless innings, only amassing one hit, the Spartans were finally able to get onto the scoreboard. Jack Frank hit a double, Dillon Kark an RBI single, Ziegler a double and Nick Williams singled, bringing in Kark and Ziegler; the score was now 5-3 with Nebraska ahead.

Overbeek hit an RBI single in the top of the eighth inning, which brought the score to 6-3. Shortly after, Case Sanderson doubled and brought in two more runs, followed by a sacrifice fly, ultimately making the score 9–3 for Nebraska.

In the top of the ninth inning, Nebraska's Dylan Carey hit a solo home run that fell just over the wall, making the score 10-3. A single and an RBI double later, Nebraska scored yet another run and made it 11-3 with a runner on second base.

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Michigan State couldn't muster anything special in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Spartans went down in order to lose 11-3 in the second game of the home series.

Though Nebraska's offensive surges came in short spurts, the Cornhuskers completely dominated the Spartans. In each inning, it seemed nearly impossible for Michigan State to come back from the deficit the team always held.

Head coach Jake Boss Jr. said that in order to get a win out of the series, the Spartans will need to be better, play clean defense and not give Nebraska offensive opportunities throughout the game.

"They don't beat themselves, so we got to go out and beat them," Boss Jr. said post-game. "We need to really execute our plan at the plate; (we) got to play complete baseball."

Game Three

Before the final game of the series, Michigan State honored its six seniors for Senior Day. The players were Kark, Sam Thompson, Cook, Frank, Ziegler and Nick Powers

Powers was the starting pitcher for Michigan State, entering the game with a 6-4 record and a 5.69 ERA. For Nebraska, Jackson Brockett started, who came into the game with a 2-0 record and a 2.82 ERA.

Michigan State quickly pounced on Nebraska's pitching and defense in the bottom of the first inning. After a double and a walk, Ziegler hit a two-run RBI double, allowing the Spartans to take an early 2-0 lead.

With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Kark hit an RBI single, followed by a wild throw to first base by Brockett, allowing a runner to score. The Spartans were ahead 4-0 after two innings of play.

By the end of the fourth inning, Michigan State added another two runs to the scoreboard after Jacob Anderson hit an RBI double and Frank made a sacrifice groundout, totaling a 6-0 lead for the Spartans. Nebraska, on the other hand, only amassed one hit in the four innings.

In the top of the sixth inning, Nebraska finally got on the scoreboard. With the bases loaded, Carey hit a two-run RBI double, then Riley Silva hit a sacrifice flyout to right field and Powers threw a wild pitch, which led to a 6-4 game with MSU in the lead. 

The Spartans were able to come back and grab a couple more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Frank hit an RBI single, followed by an RBI single from Ziegler, which brought the score to 8-4 in favor of Michigan State.

In the top of the seventh inning, the Cornhuskers got back the two runs they gave up in the inning prior. Sanderson hit an RBI single and Tyler Stone hit a sacrifice fly, making the score 8-6.

The Spartans were able to pick up another few runs in the bottom of the seventh inning after two walks and a wild throw by the Cornhuskers leading to a 9-6 advantage for the Spartans. Then, Randy Seymour hit an RBI double to bring in Michigan State’s 10th run of the game. Frank, shortly after, got an RBI double to make it 11-6; the Spartans were in complete control of the game.

The rest of the game was quiet offensively for both teams, and in the top of the ninth, the Spartans secured an 11-6 victory. 

Even with the win, Michigan State will not advance to play in the Big Ten Tournament, as only the top eight teams will play. With the team not qualifying, head coach Jake Boss Jr. said that the team will be trying hard to improve all of next season to eventually make it back to the tournament.

"You always want to win the next (game), and it's disappointing and frustrating when you don't get a chance to continue to compete," Boss Jr. said post-game. "We're going to do everything we can to get back to that spot."

Frank, one of the seniors who played his last game, said that Senior Day was highly emotional for him, since throughout the game, he was reflecting on his past four years at Michigan State.

"I had the best time here; I love playing baseball here and I love representing Michigan State," Frank said. "I'm always going to be a Michigan State fan; I'm always going to want to come back. It's just a special place."

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