EAST LANSING, Mich. â€“ The Michigan State baseball team clinched a share of its first Big Ten title since 1979 with an emotional 10-1 victory over Northwestern Friday afternoon at McLane Baseball Stadium. After the final strikeout by Tony Bucciferro, the entire team rushed the field and celebrated with a dogpile on the infield before a standing ovation from the crowd.
â€œWe talked about this moment from day one,â€ said MSU head coach Jake Boss, who is only in his third year at the helm of the Spartan program. â€œFor it to come true is really something special. Itâ€™s such a good group of kids and theyâ€™ve worked so hard â€“ Iâ€™m really happy and really proud for them.â€
Bucciferro was masterful on the mound in throwing MSUâ€™s second straight complete game. The junior from Joliet, Ill., tied a career high with nine strikeouts and scattered just three hits while allowing one unearned run in the first.
â€œIâ€™ve never experienced anything like that in my life â€“ Iâ€™ll never forget it,â€ said Bucciferro, who improved his record to 8-2 and was mobbed by his teammates after the win. â€œIt was worth all the hard work that weâ€™ve done.â€
The Spartans (34-18, 15-8) broke the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth to all but seal up the schoolâ€™s fourth Big Ten Championship. After joining the league in 1951, Michigan State won its first Big Ten title in 1954 under John Kobs, then won titles in 1971 and 1979 under Danny Litwhiler.
Following the initial celebration in the infield, the team gathered in left field, as Eckerle and Holm taped up â€œ11â€ on the Big Ten banner along the fence.
â€œThis is an unbelievable feeling,â€ said Eckerle, MSUâ€™s all-time hits leader, following the game. â€œThis has been our goal from day one. Words canâ€™t explain how I feel right now. I had goosebumps in the top of the ninth. Itâ€™s something Iâ€™ll remember for the rest of my life.â€
â€œWeâ€™re a part of history now,â€ said senior co-captain Jeff Holm. â€œThese fans came out and supported us all the time at home, and Iâ€™m glad they could be here when we did it. I think every single guy on this team deserves it â€“ every single one helped get that championship.â€
After Northwestern (19-29, 9-13) scored an unearned in the first to take a 1-0 lead, Torsten Boss answered with a deep solo shot to right field in the second to tie the game at 1.
MSU took the lead for good with two runs in the third. Ryan Jones tripled to left field â€“ off the Big Ten Championship banner along the fence â€“ to bring home Jordan Keur, while Boss added his second RBI with a sacrifice fly.
The two-run lead was more than enough for Bucciferro to work with, as he retired 18 of 19 batters at one point from the first through seven innings, including 12 in a row during one stretch. He retired the Wildcats in order five times, including striking out the side to close the ninth.
â€œTony was outstanding,â€ said Boss. â€œHe throws so many strikes, and heâ€™s able to get ahead in the count, which allows him to go deep in the ballgame. Heâ€™s come such a long way since his freshman year and heâ€™s learned how to compete at this level, and you saw that today.â€
The Spartans gave themselves a little breathing room on a RBI groundout by Eckerle in the sixth before breaking the game open with six runs in the eighth. Justin Scanlon opened the scoring barrage with a leadoff triple, while Jones, Hook and Wieber all had run-scoring hits in the inning. Scanlon and Jones finished with three
hits apiece for MSU, as the Spartans had 12 in the game.
Michigan State now has a 1.5-game lead over Illinois in the Big Ten standings; the Fighting Illini (13-9 Big Ten) host Indiana Friday night in Champaign. An Illinois loss either Friday or Saturday would give MSU the outright championship, or a Spartan win in the series finale against Northwestern would give MSU the regular-season title outright as well. The Spartans will host the Wildcats in the final home game of the season Saturday at 1:05 p.m. at McLane Baseball Stadium. MSU will recognize its six seniors in a ceremony before the game at approximately 12:40 p.m.