EAST LANSING, Mich. â€“ Sophomore right-hander David Garner allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings to lead Michigan State past Iowa, 7-3, Sunday afternoon at McLane Baseball Stadium, securing the series win for the Spartans.
â€œToday was a big day and another opportunity to win another series,â€ said MSU head coach Jake Boss, as the Spartans won their fifth Big Ten series of the season. â€œOur guys took care of business. It was good to be able to do that and close
the weekend on a positive note.â€
With one weekend left to play in the regular season, the Spartans (33-17) are tied for fourth place in the Big Ten standings with Nebraska at 12-9. Purdue has clinched at least a share of the title with a 16-5 league record, while Indiana and Penn State are tied for second at 13-8. The top-six teams will advance to the Big Ten Tournament May 23-26 in Columbus, Ohio, with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams receiving byes.
On Sunday, Garner did his best to try and push Michigan State to a No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The product of Niles, Mich., who struck out six, improved to 3-0 in Big Ten starts and has fanned 31 batters in 34 1/3 innings since joining the conference rotation.
â€œIt feels great, especially on Motherâ€™s Day with the family being here,â€ said Garner. â€œTrying to get a No. 2 seed is big. That bye is huge in the (Big Ten) tournament â€“ you give all your pitchers a day rest, you give all your position players a day rest. I knew that I had to go out and give my team a chance just to try and get that No. 2 seed.â€
Clinging to a 1-0 lead after four and a half innings of play, Michigan State broke the game open with a three-run fifth inning to push the advantage to 4-0.
A leadoff double by Blaise Salter and a single by Anthony Cheky put runners on first and third with one out, and Ryan Jones came through with an RBI single to left for the first run of the inning. After a two-out walk loaded the bases, the Hawkeyes gave the Spartans two runs, first on an error by first baseman Mike McQuillan, then on a hit batter.
In the sixth, Salter connected on a shot over the left-field fence for his second home run of the series to make it 5-0.
Garner (4-3) let the first two batters reach in the top of the seventh on a double and a walk, but closed his outing in style with back-to-back swinging strikeouts.
â€œDavidâ€™s stuff is really good â€“ if heâ€™s around the strike zone, he has a chance to beat anybody,â€ Boss said. â€œTo have David on a Sunday for us is really big. Itâ€™s a testament I think to how good Tony Bucciferro and Andrew Waszak have thrown as well.â€
MSU added some insurance runs in the bottom half of the seventh, as John Martinez delivered a two-run homer to left field, his third of the season.
Garner exited the game after throwing 108 pitches in seven innings, giving way to Trey Popp. The Hawkeyes (20-26, 8-13) got on the board with three runs on four hits in the eighth, but Bryce Jenney finished things out for the Spartans with a scoreless ninth.
The Spartans collected nine hits at the plate, led by John Martinez, who went 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs. Salter was 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI, and Jones had two hits, including a double in the sixth, which tied him with Bob Malek for second in MSU history with 45 career doubles.
On a beautiful spring day in East Lansing, a crowd of 1,451 gathered at McLane Baseball Stadium to watch the Spartans win their 33rd game of the season, which is tied for eighth most in school history.
â€œWhen we get good weather, our fan base is tremendous,â€ said Boss. â€œWe have a lot of loyal people that come out and watch us play. To have a large crowd out here on Motherâ€™s Day is really special for our baseball family. Thatâ€™s the attitude that we wanted to bring here when we got here four years ago. Our players and their families have really embraced that as well. It was a special day for everybody.â€
Michigan State will host Penn State in the final Big Ten series, Thursday-Saturday (May 17-19), at McLane Baseball Stadium.
Prior to taking on the Nittany Lions, the Spartans will head to Comerica Park in Detroit on Tuesday (May 15) to face Central Michigan in the second annual â€œClash at Comericaâ€ at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on BTN.