The Michigan State baseball team has brought a blue-collar approach to the season and it has paid off. The Spartans improved to 7-3 on the season with another scrappy win today.
Michigan State super SID Zach Fisher has the latest on the Spartans:
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- A Bryce Kelley throw to Gabe Sotres for the tag at the plate gave Michigan State the defensive walk-off win over Western Carolina, 4-3, Saturday night to close the second of three days of the 2020 First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive.
With WCU's Kitt Capell on second after a 1-out double, Justice Bigbie knocked a 2-out single up the middle and Kelley charged and came up throwing, firing a frozen rope to Sotres at home and he applied to tag to nab Capell at the plate for the final out and the defensive walk-off.
"I always think about how you have to think for every situation if the ball comes to you, and plan ahead for that situation. So just fielding the ground ball and knowing the runner was on second base looking to score in that situation, you just let it go with your best throw and do what you can for the team, and then just elation after that," Kelley said about his thoughts and feelings on the final play.
Senior outfielder Kelley's throw was half of the play, as redshirt-freshman catcher Sotres made the catch and applied the tag.
"I was just thinking Bryce was going to through a laser to me and I was ready to make the tag for the out. It was just perfect timing and everything," Sotres said. "I just wanted to make sure and field the hop cleanly and knew that when made the tag that it was game over; I got up and it was just electric, everyone was celebrating, it was really good!"
The Spartans celebrated a victory for MSU for the third game in a row, all with exciting, yet different set-ups to the win.
"That was a great way to finish a really good ballgame tonight for us. Bryce made a great throw and Gabe made a nice tag, and it was a good win," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. "I'm proud of our guys for hanging in there. They threw a good arm at us that gave us some fits early, but I thought we were productive when we had opportunities, and played well defensively."
It was MSU's third-straight walk-off win, all at Fluor Field, after a 15-14 win in 10 innings last Sunday and an 8-7 walk-off win over Kansas Friday afternoon in the opening game of the weekend invitational. Michigan State's three 1-run wins in a row matches all of last season's 1-run game wins, going 3-2 for the year.
"Our guys have showed a lot of character the last three ballgames and I'm proud of them for that," Boss said. "Tonight is another situation where we could have lost the lead, but we made a play when we needed to. The previous two walk-off wins we did lose leads but figured out a way to win them, and tonight, we were able to hang on to it and make a play defensively when we needed to. This group is showing a lot of character and there's a long way to go, but hopefully, we're learning how to win a little bit."
The Spartans are now 7-3 on the season. Western Carolina is 6-4 with the loss. Saturday marked the second-straight season that the Spartans and Catamounts met at Fluor Field, as MSU lost 6-4 in 11 innings, and Michigan State now leads the all-time series, 3-1, with all four meetings at Fluor Field.
Saturday's win was also secured by junior infielder/pitcher Zach Iverson, who played the first 7.1 innings of the game at third base, before coming in to pitch in the eighth, and got the final 1.2 innings with two strikeouts to earn his first collegiate save. At the plate, Iverson went 1-for-1 with an RBI and two runs scored, drawing three walks.
"The coaches told me in the dugout in the fifth and sixth innings that it was probably going to be possibility that I was going to come in and pitch, so I was just trying to get my mind right to close out a close game, while still being focused on what I was doing in the field and at the plate, which is something I've kind of gotten used to being a utility player my whole life," Iverson said. "I was just happy to have the opportunity and happy we got it done."
Iverson was Friday's hero as he provided the walk-off hit.
"It feels great. To win games like these are season-sparkers, and we're playing really well and finding ways to win. To do it three games in a row really is a good sign for us," Iverson said.
Iverson preserved the win for senior starting pitcher Jarret Olson, who fired another standout start, going 6.2 IP with three hits and two runs, while striking out six, the second-most of his career. Olson has 20 strikeouts in his three starts this season, nearly matching last year's season total of 27 Ks. Along with his pitching, Olson helped his own cause and more than fielded his position with a nice catch on a foul out, darting off the mound and snaring the catch in front of the Western Carolina dugout for the final out of the sixth inning for his third 1-2-3 frame of the contest.
After Olson got into a bit of a jam in the top of the seventh, as Western Carolina got runners on the corners with two outs, the Spartans called on redshirt-freshman reliever William Christophersen out of the bullpen and he chalked up a big strikeout to thwart the threat by the Catamounts.
"I thought Jarret Olson threw well again, and Will Christophersen came on and got a big strikeout for us when we needed an out, and Zach Iverson played really well, both offensively and on the mound when we needed him," Boss said. "It was a good night for the Spartans."
At the plate, redshirt-sophomore infielder Peter Ahn was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, while Kelley, senior Bailey Peterson and freshman outfielder Jack Frank were all 1-for-4, with Kelley adding a run scored and Frank logging an RBI. Kelley, Peterson, Ahn and sophomore infielder Brendan Regan all swiped one stolen base apiece.
"We've had a lot of close wins now already this season, and we haven't had a lot of wins like these over the last couple years, so it's pretty special to come out on top," Kelley said. "It's a lot more fun to come out with the win and to do it with this group has been nothing but fun so far; hopefully we can keep it going."
The Spartans got on the board first by plating a pair of runs in the home half of the first frame, after Kelley singled to lead off, then stole second. Ahn followed with single to score Kelley and later, Iverson singled up the middle to drive in Ahn for a 2-0 MSU lead.
Western Carolina quickly countered with a two-run inning of its own in the top of the second, on a one-out, two-run double by Seth Graves, but Olson got a strikeout and a popup to end the rally.
MSU took the lead with a run in the bottom of the fourth, as Iverson led off with a walk, moved to second and third on a pair of groundouts, and scored on a wild pitch.
The Spartans took a 4-2 lead with a run in the home half of the sixth, as again Iverson started the rally with a walk. He moved to second on a walk by Sotres. Frank was next up and smacked a single to center to drive in Iverson.
WCU got a run back in the eighth, scoring on a sacrifice fly, before Iverson shut down the rally to end the eighth and denied the Catamounts of much in the ninth, before Kelley's throw to Sotres for the tag sealed the defensive walk-off victory for MSU.
First Pitch Invitational action wraps up on Sunday featuring Kansas and Western Carolina at 10 a.m., followed by MSU vs. Ball State at 1 p.m.
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