DUNEDIN, Fla. â€“ The Michigan State baseball team defeated No. 11 St. Johnâ€™s on Opening Day, 11-4, Friday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The Spartans never trailed and scored six runs in bottom of the eighth inning to put the game way.
â€œIt was a good win,â€ said head coach Jake Boss, who is now 4-0 on Opening Day as head coach of the Spartans. â€œEd Blankmeyer has done a great job with that program and they really have been the model for the schools in the North (St. Johnâ€™s has advanced to the NCAA Regionals four of the past five seasons). To be able to beat them is big for our kids and our program.
â€œOur goal before the season was to open some eyes nationally with some good quality wins that will hopefully help us with our RPI later in the season. At the same time, we still have two more solid teams that we have to play this weekend (South Florida, No. 15 Louisville). It doesnâ€™t mean anything if we donâ€™t come out and perform tomorrow. But I believe our guys are focused and will be ready for the task at hand.â€
Senior right-hander Tony Bucciferro picked up his 21st career victory by only allowing one hit through six innings. The co-captain struck out six, didnâ€™t surrender a walk, and retired his first 13 batters.
â€œThat was as good of a performance by Tony since heâ€™s been here,â€ Boss said. â€œHe threw strikes, located all of his pitches, and was in charge the entire time he was out there.â€
Preseason All-American Torsten Boss, starting his first career game in center field after playing third base his first two seasons, led MSU at the plate by going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Boss began his season in style by smashing a solo homer in the bottom of the first.
The homer was perhaps even more impressive considering it came against St. Johnâ€™s right-hander Kyle Hansen, a 6-8, 215-pound preseason All-American who consistently throws in the mid-90s.
â€œTorsten is one of the best hitters in the conference, and he proved it tonight,â€ said Boss. â€œHe came in with a good approach in the first inning; he was very aggressive. He got a fastball up in the zone and got the barrel on it. Sometimes, when a pitcher throws that hard, they supply some of the power, but Torsten hit it pretty good.â€
The Spartans added another run in the bottom of the second off Hansen to take a 2-0 lead. Jordan Keur, who went 2-for-4 with three runs, drew a two-out walk, then scored on an RBI double by freshman Jimmy Pickens. It was Pickensâ€™ first collegiate at-bat.
Hansen, who struck out 106 batters in a school-record 107.2 innings last season, did strike out nine in just four innings of work, but had to leave the game due to his pitch count.
â€œHansen has as good of an arm as Iâ€™ve seen as a coach,â€ said Boss. â€œHis stuff is just electric. We struck out a lot, but we also worked him into some deep counts, which got his pitch count up early.â€
MSU added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth off Red Storm reliever Kevin Kilpatrick, as Justin Scanlon and Joel Fisher delivered RBI singles. A Ryan Jones RBI double in the sixth made it 5-0 in favor of the Spartans.
Bucciferro was relieved in the seventh, and St. Johnâ€™s took immediate advantage, scoring two runs on a triple by Jeremy Baltz and a double by Matt Wessinger.
The Spartan lead was trimmed to 5-4 when the Red Storm scored two more in the top of the eighth. Anthony Iacomini had an RBI single in the inning, and with two outs and runners on first and second, closer Tony Wieber entered the game for Mike Theodore to face Baltz, the preseason Big East Player of the Year. An error by Spartan first baseman Ryan Krill prolonged the inning and led to another run, but Wieber got the next batter to fly out.
Â â€œTo our kidsâ€™ credit, they didnâ€™t get nervous in the eighth,â€ Boss said. â€œThey stayed calm and knew we still had the lead. Jordan (Keur) had a great at-bat with a big two-strike hit to lead off the eighth, and it kind of snowballed from there.â€
After Keurâ€™s single to start the bottom of the inning, five straight Spartans reached base, including a single by Jimmy Pickens, two hit-by-pitches to Kevin Goergen and Ryan Jones, a walk to Scanlon, and finally a two-run single from Boss. Fisher also had an RBI groundout in the inning and Jared Hook produced an RBI single.
Wieber retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his 10th career save, which is now tied for fourth most in school history.
Michigan State returns to action in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge to face South Florida Saturday at 1 p.m. at Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater, Fla. Live stats will be available at www.GoUSFBulls.com.