By Tino Abarca
EAST LANSING, Mich.– Michigan State and Minnesota took their undefeated conference records into play against one another at McLane Baseball Stadium Saturday afternoon. The two top teams in the B1G began their three-game set with a doubleheader, headlined by a pair of aces for both ball clubs. The Gophers emerged victorious in both games, sweeping the Spartans, 3-2 and 4-3.
Alex Troop took the mound for the Spartans against a Gophers offense sporting a .360 batting average, which ranks first in the B1G. Allowing only one hit entering the third, Troop witnessed the Gophers’ first scoring threat. After a walk to leadoff hitter Terrin Vavra, Jordan Kozicky swung through strike three and interfered with Spartans catcher Will Salter, who attempted to throw out a stealing Vavra. Vavra was immediately ruled out on Kozicky’s behalf, which put an end to the top half of the inning.
One bad inning haunted the Spartans’ left hander. Troop loaded the bases in the fourth, surrendering a single and a pair of walks. Designated hitter Micah Coffey put the Gophers on the board, lining a 3-2, two-out pitch to right field, clearing the bases and giving the Gophers a 3-0 lead. Troop made quick work of second baseman Luke Pettersen for the third out, and his fifth strikeout of the game.
“That was the only inning that was really troublesome.” Troop said when describing the only bad inning of his outing. “That’s where I wasn’t good enough.”
The Spartans answered in the bottom half of the fourth. With two outs and runners at the corners, shortstop Royce Ando singled up the middle, scoring Marty Bechina. On the very next Lucas Gilbreath offering, Bryce Kelley dropped a single down the left field line, scoring Zack McGuire and trimming the Gophers’ lead to one.
Despite showing life in the ninth, Spartans were unable to plate a run. Dan Chmielewski, who went 2-for-4 on the day, led off the inning with a single, then pinch hitter Cory Young sacrificed him over. Brian Glowicki struck out Kelley and Troop to take Game 1 of the doubleheader by a score of 3-2.
In relief of Gilbreath, Tyler Hanson and Glowicki allowed only three hits over a combined three innings of work to shutout the Spartans.
Troop dropped his second game of the season, falling to 3-2. Gilbreath remains perfect for the Gophers, improving to 3-0.
Gophers wouldn’t wait long to get their offense started in Game 2. A single and double to start the second inning presented a quality scoring opportunity. Kozicky dropped a single just inside the right field line, plating two runners to make it 2-0. After another single, Ethan Landon was poised to end the threat. He recorded three straight outs and escaped before any further damage.
Troop drew a walk with one out in the bottom half of the second. Heads-up baserunning allowed him to go first-to-third on a wild pitch from Gophers starter Brett Schulze. Kelley immediately scored Troop on a single up the middle, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Back-to-back singles in the fifth put Landon and the Spartans in trouble again. A wild pitch put two runners in scoring position, but Gophers were only able to plate one with a sacrifice fly from Coffey.
The Spartans countered with a run in the bottom half of the inning with an infield single from Salters. A sacrifice bunt advanced him to second, setting the table for Dan Durkin. The senior second baseman singled Salters home with a liner to right field, bringing the Spartans within one again.
Mitchell Tyranski, making his seventh appearance of the season, was exceptional in relief for Landon. He allowed only three baserunners while striking out four of the 10 batters he faced over 2 ⅔ innings.
McGuire began the Spartans’ sixth with a double off the left field wall. Two consecutive outs brought Kelley to the plate. A slow rolling infield hit allowed McGuire to score and knotted the game up, 3-3.
Nathan Witt came on in relief for Tyranski, who allowed a hitter to reach. The inherited runner scored on a Pettersen single up the middle, avoiding a Salters tag with an acrobatic slide in the process.
Glowicki was called upon again to earn his second save of the day, 11th on the year. Trying to preserve a 4-3 lead, he did just that. The Spartans went down in order in the ninth inning to drop both games of the doubleheader.
“Played well at points but not well enough to win,” said Troop. “We were so close in both games but in the end, a loss is a loss.”
The Spartans (15-8, 2-2) now fall to 2-5 in one-run ball games.
“Three one-run games in a row, you always look back…you figure what can we have done differently from a coach and player perspective,” Coach Jake Boss Jr. said after third consecutive one run loss.
The Gophers (17-8, 5-0) remain atop B1G standings, with an undefeated 5-0 record.
“They’re the reigning B1G champs from a year ago, and there’s a reason for that,” said Boss Jr. He also gave credit to Gophers coach John Anderson. “Their head coach has over 1,200 wins, and there’s a reason for that.”
The three-game series will conclude Sunday as the Spartans try to avoid a sweep against the Gophers. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.