Michigan State Spartans Drop Series Finale at Illinois, 11-8
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. â€“ The Michigan State baseball team came up short at Illinois Sunday afternoon at Illinois Field, 11-8, in the rubber game of the weekend series. Although the Spartans (24-12) dropped the series, they are still tied for first place in the Big Ten standings at the halfway point in the conference race along with Penn State and Purdue at 7-5.
Second baseman Ryan Jones led MSU at the plate on Sunday, going 2-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs, including a three-run homer in the seventh. He also extended his career-long hitting streak to 25 games.
Torsten Boss and Brandon Eckerle had three hits apiece for the Spartans, and Eckerle moved into fifth place all-time at MSU with 228 career hits. Jeff Holm collected his 200th career hit with a solo homer in the seventh.
Although MSU scored in the first inning on a Holm sacrifice fly, the lead was shortlived as Illinois (14-21, 6-6) put up three runs in the bottom of the inning off Spartan starter David Garner. Garner last only two innings in his shortest start of the season.
Michigan State took a 4-3 lead with three runs in the fifth as Jones collected his first two RBIs with a two-run double, followed by a Boss RBI bunt single.
But once again, Illinois responded, this time with six runs in the bottom of the sixth to go up 9-4. The Illini racked up five singles and one double against three Spartan pitchers in what proved to be the gameâ€™s decisive inning.
The Spartans rallied in top of the seventh on Jonesâ€™ three-run homer to left-center and Holmâ€™s solo blast to right-center, cutting the margin to one run at 9-8.
In the bottom of the seventh, however, Willie Argo delivered a two-run shot to left field off Spartan reliever Tony Wieber to put Illinois up three runs, 11-8. Wieber did go 3-for-4 at the plate with a double in getting the start at right field. The sophomore from Grand Ledge, Mich., hit .545 in the series (6-for-11).
The Spartans loaded the bases in the ninth with one out, but a flyout and strikeout ended the scoring threat for Michigan State.
Chase Rihtarchik (0-1) suffered the loss for MSU, allowing four runs on three hits in 3.1 innings of relief.
Chris Pack (3-1) earned the win for Illinois, while Wes Braun picked up his fifth save of the season.
Michigan State has played three of its first four Big Ten series on the road. MSU begins the second half of the league schedule at home against Penn State at McLane Baseball Stadium next weekend (April 29-30, May 1).
Prior to taking on Penn State, the Spartans will play two midweek games against Eastern Michigan, beginning on Tuesday, April 26 in East Lansing at 3:05 p.m. MSU makes the return trip Wednesday, April 27 for a 6:30 p.m. start in Ypsilanti.