EAST LANSING, Mich. â€“ Taking the mound at McLane Baseball Stadium for the final time, senior Kurt Wunderlich pitched his best career game as a Spartan, throwing his first complete game shutout as Michigan State defeated Northwestern, 3-0, Thursday afternoon.
In a dominating performance, Wunderlich scattered three hits and didnâ€™t allow a runner to reach second base as he earned his Big Ten-leading ninth win of the season. Wunderlich (9-2) struck out three against no walks while hurling 116 pitches, 76 for strikes.
â€œIt felt great to do it, especially at that big time since itâ€™s my last time pitching at McLane Stadium,â€ said Wunderlich. â€œItâ€™s a good ending to have.â€
â€œKurt was outstanding â€“ thatâ€™s the kind of effort we need out of our leaders and our seniors,â€ said MSU head coach Jake Boss. â€œHeâ€™s been really, really good for us all season long in game one of the series. He got ahead early in the count, kept his pitch count down, and he was throwing so well we decided to let him ride it out. Itâ€™s that time of the year when we need our best guys to be our best guys, and he certainly was today.â€
The victory puts Michigan State (33-18, 14-8 Big Ten) within one game of claiming at least a share of the Big Ten title, and also clinches a berth in next weekâ€™s Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio. The Spartans entered the day with a one-game lead over Minnesota and Illinois in the league standings; the Gophers beat Ohio State, 3-2, in game one of a doubleheader earlier on Thursday.
MSU took an early lead with a run in the bottom of the first. Leadoff man Brandon Eckerle was hit in the head by a pitch and knocked to the ground, but after taking several minutes to compose himself and also clean a cut on his ear, he felt good enough to stay in the game. Eckerle advanced to third as the next batter, Ryan Jones, delivered a single through the right side, and then scored on a Jeff Holm RBI groundout.
The Spartans took advantage of two Wildcat miscues in the third as they scored two unearned runs. With Eckerle on third and two outs, Jared Hook hit a grounder to Northwestern first baseman Jack Havey, but the ball went through Haveyâ€™s legs and into right field to score Eckerle. MSU put its second run of the inning on the board when Torsten Boss came home on a wild pitch by Wildcat starter Luke Farrell.
The 3-0 lead was more than enough for Wunderlich. He retired seven consecutive batters during one stretch covering the second, third and fourth innings, and also had a run of eight consecutive outs spanning the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Wunderlich retired the Wildcats in order four times, including the ninth. Just five Wildcats reached base the entire game.
When Wunderlich did allow runners, they didnâ€™t go anywhere. He induced two double play groundouts, and even picked off his team-best fourth runner of the season by getting Geoff Rowan at first base in the eighth inning.
Wunderlich was also the beneficiary of several strong defensive plays by Michigan State, led by six putouts by Eckerle in center field, including two running catches that prevented extra-base hits for Northwestern.
â€œIâ€™ll take our center fielder over anyone elseâ€™s in the country,â€ said Boss. â€œWhen the ball goes up, unless it leaves the park, I have a pretty good feeling itâ€™s going in his glove.â€
Although Northwestern (19-28, 9-12 Big Ten) was held to three hits, Michigan State collected just six against Ferrell, who also went the distance. Ferrell (6-3) fanned four and walked three while surrendering just one earned run. Eckerle and Jones led MSU at the plate with two hits apiece.
Game two of the series is set for Friday at 3:05 p.m. at McLane Baseball Stadium. A live broadcast will be available at spartansportsnetwork.com.
A reliever his first two seasons, Wunderlichâ€™s previous long outing was eight innings, which he accomplished four times, including earlier this season against Ohio State . . . Wunderlich now has 25 wins in his career, which ranks third all-time at Michigan State and just three behind Stuart Hirschman and Bryan Gale, who each own the school record with 28 career victories . . . It marked the second complete game shutout by a Spartan pitcher this season, as Tony Bucciferro threw one against Minnesota in a 2-0 victory over the Gophers at McLane Baseball Stadium on April 9 . . . It also marked the third shutout win for Michigan State this season (Feb. 25 vs. Charleston Southern; April 9 vs. Minnesota) . . . MSU improved to 10-0 at home this season in Big Ten play . . . Wunderlichâ€™s nine wins this season rank tied for fifth most in school history; the record is 11, set by Tim Day in 2002, while Stuart Hirschman (1992), Rob Clancy (1971) and Dick Radatz (1959) all won 10 games . . . Wunderlich improved to 3-1 in his career against Northwestern . . . In his last two outings against the Wildcats, Wunderlich has allowed only run and seven hits in 17.0 innings of action; he threw a four-hit, one-run game in eight innings last season in Evanston, Ill. . . . Michigan State is 7-1 in the first game of a Big Ten series this season (all Wunderlich starts)Â . . . MSU is 12-2 overall when Wunderlich starts this season . . . The Spartansâ€™ 33 wins ties the 2004 team for seventh most in school history . . . Brandon Eckerle recorded two hits and now has 89 for the year, which is second most in an MSU season and just four shy of Chris McCuistonâ€™s record of 93 set in 2002.