Monday, May 20, 2024

MSU drops series to Minnesota amidst push for Big Ten tournament berth

May 13, 2024
<p>MSU baseball players huddle together moments before the first pitch of their home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.</p>

MSU baseball players huddle together moments before the first pitch of their home opener vs. the University of Evansville at McLane Baseball Stadium on March 15, 2024.

The MSU baseball team came into an away series against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at 21-23 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten. The team was fresh off a series victory against Michigan the weekend prior, looking to grab another amidst a battle for a Big Ten tournament spot.

MSU lost the series to the Golden Gophers two games to one, winning the first game 6-4 before dropping the second 21-3 and losing 15-12 in the third game.

Game 1

It was a sunny, warm day in Minneapolis, MN, when big Spartan lefty Joseph Dzierwa made his usual Friday night start. He toed off against right-hander Will Semb for Minnesota.

The Spartans kicked off the top of the first with one baserunner on a double from infielder Dillon Kark, but that was all for the frame. After Dzierwa walked the first batter in the bottom of the inning and allowed a single right after, a double play brought in a run for Minnesota. 

The MSU bats catapulted themselves back into the game right away with a leadoff home run from infielder Ryan McKay, his first as a Spartan. The score moved to an even 1-1. The bottom half of the second inning and all of the third were very similar, with both sides going down in order. Dzierwa struck out two in the process across both innings.

In the top of the fourth, MSU took the upper hand. McKay singled with one out and stole second with two outs. Catcher Sam Thompson hit in. The Spartans led 2-1.

Dzierwa was back out for the bottom of the fourth, in which he gave up a two-out single followed by a two-run home run off the bat of outfielder/catcher Drew Berkland. Dzierwa hit a batter and gave up another single before getting out of the inning. The score moved to 3-2 Minnesota.

After the first out in the top of the fifth, outfielder Jack Frank and Kark singled back-to-back before a wild pitch advanced both. Outfielder Nick Williams hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Frank, evening the score at 3-3. Dzierwa retired the side in the bottom of the fifth.

Left-hander Justin Thorsteinson came in to replace Semb in the top of the sixth. MSU’s offense managed to get two runners on from a double and a walk, but they were left on base. Dzierwa returned to the mound for the bottom half of the sixth and allowed a walk and a single, but escaped danger by striking out two, the latter one looking on a full count.

The Spartan bats broke through in the top of the seventh inning. Frank started off with a single and a steal, followed by an RBI double from Kark down the right-field line. Outfielder Greg Ziegler then ripped an RBI single through the left side after the previous batter moved Kark to third on a groundout. 

Right-hander Aaron Mishoulam came in for MSU to relieve Dzierwa, ending his day. He went six innings allowing six hits, three earned runs, walking two and striking out four.

Kark doubled to left center to bring in Frank MSU's next time up, increasing its lead to three runs. Mishoulam was able to escape with a three-inning save and get MSU a win despite giving up a double with one out in the ninth. The final score was 6-4 MSU.

Standouts

Dzierwa and Mishoulam both pitched well as Dzierwa earned the win with his six-inning, three-hit performance. Mishoulam earned the save with three innings of two-hit work, allowing one run and striking out three.

On offense, Kark stood out with four hits and two RBIs, while both Frank and Thompson nabbed three hits, Thompson drove in one. McKay grabbed two hits including his first home run. Ziegler and Williams also drove in one run each.

Game 2

In game two of the series, lefty Nick Powers started on the bump for MSU. He squared off against another southpaw, Minnesota's Connor Wietgrefe.

Like he’s often done, Frank started the game off with a single, but that would be all for MSU. After retiring the first batter in the bottom of the first, Powers walked the next, followed by a double and an RBI single. Powers managed to get another out before walking another batter, which was followed up by a bases-clearing double. The score was 5-0 for Minnesota. In the second, the score moved to 6-0 on a solo home run by catcher/infielder Weber Neels.

The Spartan bats went down in order in the top of the third, sending Powers back out for the bottom half.  He started out by giving up another solo home run, this time to infielder Ike Mezzenga. Powers retired the next three batters in order, striking out one. 

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To start the bottom of the fourth, right-hander Nolan Higgins entered the game for Powers and gave up a two-RBI single to right center with two outs. The score moved to 9-0 Golden Gophers. Higgins was back out for the bottom half of the fifth, inducing a flyout before giving up a solo home run to catcher Sam Hunt. The Gophers struck again later in the inning with a two-run home run to outfielder Josh Fitzgerald.

The Spartans wound up losing 21-3. 

Standouts

McKay and Williams each collected two hits. McKay’s resulted in an RBI. Six other Spartans had hits as well.

Game 3

For the rubber match of the series, right-hander Tommy Szczepanski began on the mound for MSU. He squared off against lefty Tucker Novotny for the Golden Gophers.

In the top of the second inning, the Spartan bats began with an out, but quickly followed it with a solo home run from catcher Noah Bright to left field. The score moved to 1-0 for the Spartans. Szczepanski walked the first batter of the inning. The walk was followed by a single and a two-RBI double. That prompted a pitching change, as right-hander Harrison Cook entered the game for Szczepanski.

Down a run, the Spartan bats rattled off four runs on a three-RBI double from Thompson and an RBI single by Bright. A hit by pitch and a walk in the top of the fourth brought life to MSU with two outs, Thorsteinson was brought in after the walk to replace Hemmesch. Ziegler capitalized on the situation with a three-run home run to left center. The score moved to 8-2 MSU.

MSU's lead shot up to ten runs at 12-2 after a solo home run by McKay and a two-RBI single by infielder Randy Seymour.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Gophers went on a furious rally, bringing MSU's double-digit lead to just two runs.  

Mishoulam looked to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth. The first batter doubled down the right-field line. A subsequent groundout was followed by an RBI single, then Mishoulam allowed another single. He induced another groundout, but it brought in a run. After an intentional walk, Berkland hit a three-run home run to walk it off for Minnesota. 

Standouts

On the pitching side, Cook went four and a third innings, allowed just two hits, one earned run, walking three and striking out one. On offense, Ziegler, McKay and Bright all hit home runs. Williams had three hits, as did Seymour. Seymour had two RBIs while Williams had one. Thompson also collected two hits and two RBIs.

The series loss brings MSU to 22-25 overall and 10-11 in the Big Ten. The Spartans are in a battle for a spot in the Big Ten tournament, currently in a three-way tie for third place with Iowa and Maryland. The top eight teams get into the tournament in Omaha, NE.

MSU baseball’s next game is at home versus Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, May 14 at 6:05 p.m.

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