Michigan State Spartans Tame the Arizona Wildcats, 9-5

Hondo S. Carpenter

Here is a breakdown of the Spartans out in the desert courtesy of Zach Fisher the super MSU SID. The photo is also courtesy of the MSU SID.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Michigan State baseball erupted for an eight-run seventh inning and went on to post a 9-5 win at Arizona Tuesday night at historic Hi Corbett Field.

MSU sent 13 batters to the plate, scoring eight runs, including two on a bases loaded RBI single by freshman designated hitter Zaid Walker.

The Spartans overcame an early 4-0 deficit after two innings, getting on the board with one run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by senior infielder Marty Bechina, before hanging eight on the board in the seventh. The eight-run inning was the first big inning of four or more runs this season, and the most runs scored in a frame since April 7 of last season vs. Nebraska in a nine-run inning, also the seventh frame and also sending 13 batters to the plate, winning 17-5.

"I'm really proud of our guys, we dug ourselves a hole early, but to our guys' credit, they kept competing, kept scratching and clawing, and took advantage of a couple opportunities that maybe we were given," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said.  "We came up with a couple big hits in the seventh inning. I thought we played extremely well defensively. It was a much needed win."

Arizona added a run in the ninth and had two on, before junior relief pitcher Caleb Sleeman slammed the door on the Wildcat rally with a strikeout to end the game. Freshman relief pitcher Colten Panaranto earned his first collegiate win, going 3.2 innings of solid pitching in relief. 

"For Colten Panaranto to get his first college win tonight was pretty special, and he earned it; he threw extremely well tonight" Boss said. "It was a better day at the plate for some guys, Marty Bechina swung the bat well tonight and hit some balls hard, Zaid Walker hit a couple balls hard, Bailey Peterson hit a couple balls hard, and we took advantage of some opportunities on the bases and used some pressure. Overall it was a good night."

The victory for MSU snapped a nine-game losing skien for the Spartans, who won the season-opener before the skid. Arizona continued its loss-win alternating pattern over the last seven games, now 8-5 on the year, after opening the season 5-0.

Tuesday's win also gives the Spartans some momentum into this weekend, as MSU travels to Greenville, S.C., to host the 10th annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field, Friday-Sunday, March 8-10. The Spartans will open against Western Carolina on Friday at 2 p.m. ET, then take on Furman and Ohio State on Saturday at 2 and 6 p.m., respectively. MSU will then play Appalachian State on Sunday at 1 p.m. to wrap up the weekend and the 11-day, three-city, eight-game road trip.

"We talked a little bit about it yesterday at practice, and I thought today was a big momentum day. We broke the losing skid there, and it was a fun locker room after a good win against a good Arizona team. So hopefully we can use that momentum as we move forward and get ready to play four good teams in Greenville," Boss said.

Bechina was 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored Tuesday night, while Walker was 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Junior infielder/outfielder Justin Antoncic was 1-for-3, scoring two runs while driving in another and stealing one base. Junior outfielder Bryce Kelley and junior infielder Bailey Peterson were both 1-for-4 with Peterson scoring two runs, while Kelley tallied a run driven in and one scored to go with a swiped base. Senior outfielder Dan Chmielewski added a 1-for-5 outing with a run scored.

MSU had an early chance to get on the scoreboard in the opening inning, with Antoncic starting the rally with a one out walk. A Bechina single moved Antoncic up to third, and senior infielder Royce Ando later drew a two-out walk to load the bases, but a strikeout ended the threat.

Arizona was able to capitalize in the home half of the first, as Spartan sophomore southpaw starting pitcher Jesse Heikkinen got the first two batter out, he had an 0-2 count on the next Wildcat batter, Nick Quintana, but Quintana battled back and drew a walk. Austin Wells followed with a double, preceding an RBI single by Matthew Dyer to driving in Quintana. After a walk, Ryan Holgate laced a two-out, two-run single to right before Heikkinen stopped the rally with a strikeout to end the inning after UA had a 3-0 lead.

The home team tacked on a run in the bottom of the second, as Tony Bullard led off with a single and later scoring on an RBI single from Quintana and a 4-0 Wildcat advantage. 

Arizona threatened in the fourth, with the first two batters getting a single and double, respectively. After a sac bunt moved them over, MSU made a pitching change, bringing in junior Indigo Diaz, who chalked up back-to-back swinging strikeouts to thwart the threat. 

The Spartans got on the board with a run in the top of the sixth, as Antoncic reached on an error, moved to third on a single to right by senior outfielder Dan Chmielewski, and scored on a Bechina sac fly to left. 

Panaranto came on in to start the bottom of the sixth, yielding a leadoff single, but then induced a double play to Bechina at short. The next Wildcat up was Quintana, who smashed a deep drive to left center, but junior outfielder Danny Gleaves chased down the extra-bases laden drive, jumping to snare it out of the air and crash into the wall to deny the rally and end the inning.

In the top of the seventh, junior infielder Bailey Peterson belted a blast to the gap in right center for a triple, and scored when the Arizona shortstop's throw to try to nab Peterson sliding into third bounced away into the Spartan dugout. Walker followed with a double down the right field line, which chased UA starting pitcher Andrew Nardi. Walker moved up to third on a groundout to first by senior catcher Nic Lacayo off new UA pitcher Vince Vannelle. Kelley then followed with a single up the middle to plate Walker and the Wildcats made another pitching change, replacing Vannelle with Gil Luna. 

Two batters later, Antoncic drove in Kelley with a single, and later stole second as well. Chmielewski reached on an error, and Arizona made another pitching change, with Zach Sherman relieving Luna to face Bechina. Both Antoncic and Chmiewlewski moved up a base on a wild pitch to Bechina and two pitches later, Bechina was hit by a pitch. Ando was up next and he reached on an Arizona error, and Antoncic and Chmielewski darted in to score. Peterson next drew a walk, and Walker followed with a two-run single to right. Walker then stole second and Sherman threw to second, but his throw was off the mark and went out to center field, allowing Peterson to scamper home from third. Lacayo followed with a walk, before a strikeout ended the inning that took roughly 45 minutes, with MSU sending 13 Spartans to bat, facing four different pitchers in the inning. 

Arizona threatened in the ninth, with Matt Frazier lacing a one-out double down the left field line, moving to third on a wild pitch and scoring on a Quintana groundout to short. After an eight-pitch battle with Panaranto, Wells drew a walk, and MSU brought in Sleeman. Dyer was the first Wildcat to face Sleeman, reaching on a single up the middle moving Wells to second. However, Sleeman slammed the door on any thoughts of an Arizona rally by striking out Tate Soderstrom, as the called third strike sparked a Spartan celebration as the jubilant MSU team erupted out of the dugout.

With their Arizona leg of the Spring Break trip completed with the victory for MSU on Tuesday, the Spartans head to Greenville, S.C. to host the 10th annual First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field, Friday-Sunday, March 8-10.

Fans can follow the action live with links at MSUSpartans.com, along with on twitter @statebaseball.

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