Michigan State Spartans Topple Sycamores, 6-0, To Secure Series

Hondo S. Carpenter

Michigan State super SID Zach Fisher has this update on Spartan baseball. The photo is also courtesy of the MSU SID:

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Behind the pitching of Caleb Sleeman and the bats of Casey Mayes and Zach Iverson, Michigan State baseball shut out Indiana State, 6-0, Sunday afternoon at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, to capture the series, two games to win. 

Sunday's victory for MSU came after a pair of tightly contested games in the first two contests of the series, after the Spartans' thrilling 1-0 10-inning victory for MSU Friday night on a walk-off suicide squeeze bunt in the inaugural game under the lights. Indiana State bounced back to take Saturday's game, 2-1, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.

"It was a really good weekend for us, it's a good ball club over there," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said about Indiana State. "Defensively probably one of the better teams that we've played, they make every play, they don't kick it around; on the mound the Friday and Saturday guys were lights out and today the guy they ran out there had really good numbers. I'm proud of our guys, we put together a lot of good at bats, we hit a lot of balls hard, I think we had a really good approach at the plate and it paid off."

Junior pitcher Sleeman made his first start since his freshman season of 2017 and tied a career-high with five strikeouts in going a career-long 6.2 IP, stymieing the ISU bats to just three hits. The Sycamores came into the weekend hitting .282 as a team and had four players hitting over .300, but Sleeman kept them quiet.

"He looked very good he threw well. He threw a lot of pitches on Tuesday (vs. Western Michigan) and we weren't sure how deep into the game we were going be able to get with him but he really settled in, got outs early in the count, and we were able to kind of extend him a little bit," Boss said. "Evan (Flohr) did a great job in the seventh and eighth, and Indigo (Diaz) gave up the double but left him at second base. So, you play a team like that, that comes in at 22-4 and you allow two runs in 28 innings, it's a good weekend. I'm proud of those guys."

Senior relief pitcher Evan Flohr and junior reliever Indigo Diaz kept the Sycamores at bay, each yielding just one hit, with Flohr picking up an inning-ending strikeout and Diaz ringing up a pair of punchouts, the last to end the game.  The Spartan defense also turned a season-high three double plays on the afternoon.

Freshman outfielder Mayes blasted a two-run home run over the wall in right center and into the Red Cedar River, while sophomore infielder Iverson came to bat with the bases loaded and cleared them with a three-run double to right center in the eighth. 

MSU rapped a season-high 14 hits off five ISU pitchers, as the Sycamores came into the weekend ranked No. 5 in the NCAA with a 2.79 ERA and 11th in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings (6.99), but the Spartan bats doubled those averages.

Junior infielder Justin Antoncic was 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, while Mayes was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Senior designated hitter Nic Lacayo and senior infielder Royce Ando were 2-for-4, while senior infielder Marty Bechina and junior outfielder Bryce Kelley joined Iverson with a hit apiece. 

"We just keep working and we've got great kids that do work hard and it's good to see them get some success because we were scuffling there for awhile and we certainly aren't there yet but at the same time I think this is something we can build off of," Boss said.

Kelley swiped one stolen base, giving him two swipes for the weekend and five stolen bases in his last five games as part of 11 on the season. He now has 57 stolen bases on the season, closing in on the No. 3 spot on the Spartan career stolen base list that Brandon Eckerle holds with 61 swipes.

"It was a big one today," Boss said. "I think the first night game Friday night came at the right time for us. Guys were excited to play again and there was a little bit of a different feeling in the air, and I think that carried into yesterday. While we got beat yesterday, I think we played well and then came right out of the gates today. Hit some balls hard, swung it well, and I think the momentum kept coming."

MSU's defense was also solid behind Sleeman, turning double plays in both the first and second innings, turning a 5-4-3 twin killing in the first from Iverson to Ando to Antoncic, and a 6-4-3 two outs, one play in the second by Bechina, Ando and Antoncic.

The Spartans took a 2-0 lead in the second inning after Mayes went big fly in the bottom of the frame with a two-run shot to right center that landed in the Red Cedar River beyond the right-field fence. Mayes plated Lacayo, who led off with a double off the wall in left, just a few inches from going over. It was Mayes' second home run of the season, both coming on Sundays after his first home run came at Nebraska on March 24. 

Ando led off the third with a single and later moved to second on a wild pitch and third on a fly out by sophomore catcher Adam Proctor. The Spartans chased Indiana State starter Tyler Whitbread after 2.1 IP, his shortest outing of the season, by nearly half, as his previous outing was 4.0 IP in season opener on Feb. 17 after going at least 5.0 IP in every other of his six outings. Sycamore reliever Austin Cross came on in relief and got two outs to thwart the Spartan threat.

In the visitor's sixth, Sleeman got a strikeout for the first out, then worked around a walk and hit by pitch by fielding his position on a come-backer, spinning and firing to second to Bechina, who turned and threw to Antoncic at first to complete the Spartans' third double play of the game, their season-high third of the day.

MSU added a run in the home half of the sixth as Proctor led off with a walk, which chased Cross and ISU brought on Jake Ridgway. After a fly out, Mayes laced a single to right to move Proctor up to second. Proctor moved up to third on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI single by Antoncic for a 3-0 Spartan advantage.

Flohr came on to relieve Sleeman in the seventh after a two-out single. Flohr chalked up a a strikeout to end the frame and close the door on the Sycamore rally. In the top of the eighth, Flohr worked around a leadoff double by getting a pair of fly outs for the first two innings, then after a Spartan error, their first and only miscue of the weekend, Flohr got a groundout for the third out.

The Spartans broke it open in the bottom of the eighth on Iverson's bases clearing double to right center. Lacayo and Mayes both laced singles to the outfield, and Antoncic followed with a beauty of a bunt down the third base line for a single to load the bases. Iverson followed swinging on the first pitch and belting a double off the berm in right center, clearing the bases.

Diaz took the mound in the ninth, replacing Flohr, and just like his predecessor, Diaz yielded a leadoff double, but battled back to get a pop up and a strikeout for two outs. After a hit batter, Diaz rang up another strikeout to end the game, marking the second game this week that Diaz had dialed up a K for a victory for MSU, also doing so Tuesday night in MSU's win over Western Michigan at Comerica Park in Detroit, as the Spartans dashed out of the dugout to celebrate. 

Michigan State continues its stretch of four-straight games against teams from the state of Indiana on Tuesday, April 9, heading to South Bend, Ind. to tangle with Notre Dame. First pitch is slated for 6:05 p.m.

MSU resumes Big Ten Conference action next weekend, traveling to Piscataway, N.J. for a three-game weekend series at Rutgers, Friday-Sunday, April 12-14. The Spartans return home to host in-state foe Eastern Michigan on April 17.

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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