MICHIGAN STATE Spartan Baseball Grounds Rockets, 4-2
Hondo S. Carpenter
Here is a great update from the Spartans baseball SID Zach Fisher. The picture is also courtesy of the SID.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Solid relief pitching boosted Michigan State to a 4-2 win over Toledo Wednesday night under the lights at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field.
The Spartans have now won two in a row and three of their last four, as Wednesday was game six of MSU's nine-game homestand. The Green & White return to Big Ten Conference action this weekend, hosting Northwestern in a three-game weekend series Friday-Sunday.
"We've won two in a row now and I thought we played good enough to win tonight. I don't think we played great, but I thought we played well last night," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. "So hopefully we're confident and we have a little bit of momentum going into the conference series. We need to make up some ground in a hurry, so better to go into the weekend with two wins than two losses."
Sophomore reliever Jesse Heikkinen went a career-long 4.2 IP of work with three strikeouts and scattered three hits, while yielding one run, to earn the win, leveling his season ledger at 2-2.
"Jesse threw really well today and settled into it pretty good. It was a little bit like Colton (Panaranto) yesterday," Boss said after Panaranto went a career-long 7.0 IP Tuesday night. "Jesse just kept getting better as the game wore on, and unfortunately he walked the two guys there at the end, otherwise getting that last out would have really been the cap to a great outing. I'm proud of Jesse, he did a heck of a job tonight when we needed him to. The bullpen was good tonight, we made it a little interesting in the ninth, but those guys did their jobs and made pitches when they needed to."
Heikkinen came on in the top of the third and worked around a leadoff single with a double play, on the way to retiring nine in a row, ending both the fourth and fifth frames with strikeouts.
"I've been gaining confidence lately after starting the year out kind of shaky. I've been building confidence and trying to get better every outing," Heikkinen said. "We're starting to get the bats going too, we're hitting really good. Overall, just as a team we're doing well. We want to finish strong. Things didn't start how we wanted to, but we just want to go out and play hard, finish strong."
Heikkinen relieved junior starter Caleb Sleeman, who was on a limited duty of work, going 2.0 IP with three Ks, three hits and one run. Senior reliever Evan Flohr came on in the top of the seventh with two on and two outs, and induced a fly out to end the jam and the inning. Junior reliever Indigo Diaz pitched the final 2.0 innings, ringing up three strikeouts while allowing one hit to earn the save, his fifth of the season.
"I wasn't sharp tonight, but we were able to do enough to win which is all that matters. We did what we had to do to get it done in the ninth," Diaz said. "It's a big win for us, especially coming off yesterday when we played really well. We did enough to win today, so it was good; really good."
MSU's pitchers limited Toledo's scoring Wednesday night, as the Rockets entered the game av-eraging 6.3 runs per game.
Junior outfielder Bryce Kelley had two of MSU's five hits. Senior infielder Marty Bechina, freshman designated hitter Casey Mayes and fellow freshman, outfielder Zaid Walker all had one hit apiece. Bechina and freshman infielder Reese Trahey both drew three walks each, part of the 11 free passes issued by Toledo.
Bechina also swiped two bases for the second game in as many nights. After his four stolen bases in the last two nights, Bechina now has 30 for his career, moving up to a three-way logjam at No. 10 on MSU's career stolen base list, tying Jimmy Pickens (2012-15) and Joe Gavel (1968-69).
Toledo scored in its first at bat, with the rally starting with one-out single by Trace Hatfield. Two batters later John Servello cracked a two-out double off the berm in right center and Hatfield hurried all the way around from first to score and give the Rockets a 1-0 lead.
The Spartans scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth on two hits, taking advantage of two walks and a wild pitch, as Mayes started the rally with a single and Walker followed with a single to left. Sophomore infielder Zach Iverson walked to load the bases. Senior outfielder Dan Chmielewski then drove in Mayes with a sacrifice fly for the Spartans' first run of the game. Despite leading the team with seven sac bunts, that was Chmielewski's first sac fly this season. Walker later came in to score on a wild pitch for a 2-1 lead for the home team.
Michigan State plated two more runs in the home half of the fifth without a hit, as Bechina walked then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Senior infielder Royce Ando was hit by a pitch and stole second. Sophomore catcher Adam Proctor then drew a walk, with ball four getting to the backstop, allowing Bechina to scamper home on the wild pitch, with Ando moving up to third. Ando later came home to score on a wild pitch as well, and the Spartans had a 4-1 advantage.
Toledo closed the gap to 4-2 in the top of the sixth as Chris Meyers led off with a single and two batters later Brad Boss laced a double to the gap in left center to drive in Meyers. However Heikkinen got a fly out and groundout to put a damper on the Rocket rally.
MSU tried to counter in the home half of the sixth stanza, loading the bases with two outs after back-to-back singles by Kelley and Bechina and a walk by Ando, but a fly out ended the inning without a run and leaving the bases full of Spartans.
Heikkinen got the first two outs in the seventh, before yielding back-to-back bases on balls, and MSU brought in Flohr to face Toledo leadoff hitter Meyers. The Spartan southpaw won the battle by inducing a fly out to end the inning.
Diaz got into a bit of a jam in the ninth with a pair of walks sandwiched around a fly out and a single, loading the bases before getting a strikeout to end the rally and the game, sparking the Spartan celebration and the second-straight flashing light show at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field in as many nights.
The Spartans return to B1G action hosting Northwestern in a three-game weekend series Friday-Sunday, April 26-28, playing the third-straight night game with Friday's series opener at 6:35 p.m. under the lights at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field. Saturday's second game is slated for a 4:05 p.m. start time before Sunday's series finale at 2 p.m. in a nationally televised game on Big Ten Network.
Fans can also follow Spartan baseball action through "Live Stats," "Listen Live" and "Watch Live" links found at MSUSpartans.com. The games will be video streamed on BTN2Go, and will also be carried on the Spartan Sports Network live audio stream. The broadcast will be available exclusively at SpartanSportsNetwork.com and on the network's 24/7 app for mobile devices (available on iTunes and Google Play). Broadcast veteran Scott Moore calls the action alongside former MSU manager/bullpen catcher David Greenberg in select games.
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