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Spartans Fall in Series Finale at Illinois, 8-6

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. –After winning the first two games of the series, the Michigan State baseball team fell in the series finale at Illinois on Sunday afternoon, 8-6, at Illinois Field.

Although the Spartans (29-16, 10-8 Big Ten) never held the lead, the game featured three ties before the Illini (26-21, 9-9) took control for good with two runs in the bottom of the seventh.

Illinois struck first with a run in the second, but MSU quickly tied it at 1 on a Ryan Jones leadoff homer in the third.

The Fighting Illini regained the lead by scoring an unearned run in the bottom half of the third, but another Spartan solo homer, this time off the bat of Jimmy Pickens in the top of the fourth, knotted the game at 2. For Pickens, it was his team-leading sixth homer of the season.

In the bottom of the fourth, however, Illinois put up three runs to take a 5-2 advantage. The Illini were right back at it in the fifth, collecting back-to-back hits to knock out Spartan starter David Garner. Senior right-hander Bryce Jenney relieved Garner, and allowed a sacrifice fly as Illinois built up a 6-2 lead. Garner was charged with six runs, five earned, on seven hits in his four innings of work.

But MSU wouldn’t go down without a fight.

The Spartans rallied for three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh to tie the game at 6.

Michigan State used the long ball in the sixth, as John Martinez delivered a three-run homer to left field to bring the Spartans within one.

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In the seventh, MSU manufactured a run, tying the game once again. Torsten Boss drew a one-out walk, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, went to third after a hit batter, and finally scored on a wild pitch.

Unfortunately for Michigan State, the game didn’t stay tied for long, as Illinois responded with two runs in the bottom half of the seventh. Jenney allowed a leadoff single, and was replaced by southpaw Trey Popp. Following a sacrifice bunt, a walk, and a single that loaded the bases, Popp exited the game, giving way to Tony Wieber.

Wieber hit the first batter he faced, Bill Charvat, bringing home Jordan Parr from third for what turned out to be the game-winning run. The Illini also tacked on an insurance run on a sacrifice fly to make it 8-6.

The Spartans threatened in the eighth by loading the bases with one out, but a double play ended the rally.

Reid Roper earned the save for Illinois by retiring the Spartans in order in the ninth.

Jenney (1-2) suffered the loss for MSU, while Ronnie Muck (1-0) recorded the win for Illinois.

Nine different Spartans produced at least one hit as MSU had 10 hits overall in the game. Pickens led the team by collecting his 10th multi-hit game of the season.

Michigan State returns to action Tuesday to face Western Michigan in Kalamazoo at 3 p.m.