Michigan State took on its crosstown rival in Lansing in the Crosstown Showdown for an eighth consecutive year. The Spartans geared up ready for the game despite the elements. The temperature at first pitch was 39 degrees.
“Most of the guys were pretty impressed with the crowd,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “I think especially it being a cold night, a lot of people came out still.”
Redshirt senior Mike Theodore was on the mound for the Spartans to begin the game in Lansing. The 16th ranked prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays’ farm system, Tom Robson, started on the mound for the Lugnuts.
The Spartans started out slow as they could not get to Robson early. The 20-year-old struck out both Anthony Cheky and Blaise Salter and forced Ryan Richardson to ground out in the top of the first inning.
Spartan starting pitcher Theodore overcame a four-pitch walk to get out of the first quickly only facing four batters and keeping the score tied at 0-0.
The talent gap between the two teams began to show as the Spartans could not muster anything in the top of the second, again striking out twice and grounding out to end the inning.
The Lugnuts struck first in the hits column in the bottom of the second as shortstop Dawel Lugo singled to third base. The next batter, Matt Dean, reached first on a fielder’s choice as Lugo was thrown out at second. Richardson made a throwing error on an infield ground ball hit by Justin Atkinson, which then allowed the third baseman to reach first as well as advance Dean to third. Catcher Santiago Nessy came to the plate and was able to bring Dean home, taking a 1-0 lead for the Lugnuts.
The errors kept building up as Theodore made a throwing error to first base, which allowed Atkinson to score. After the defensive struggles, Theodore was able to sit down the next two batters as he struck out Dickie Joe Thon and DJ Davis to end the second inning, trailing 2-0.
Senior Joel Fisher got the first hit for the Spartans as he sent a deep line drive double to left center over the Lugnut center fielder’s head. The Spartans had something brewing with Fisher on second and only one out. Justin Hovis came to the plate and Robson hit Hovis in the arm, adding a base runner to first. Center fielder Cheky was next up, and with two on, one out, Cheky sent the first pitch of the at bat up the middle and out of reach of the outstretched Lugnut shortstop. Cheky’s single reduced the gap and the score stood at 2-1 Lansing after the top of the third.
Robson came out of the game after throwing three innings while giving up one run on two hits and five strikeouts. The Blue Jays top prospect played well, giving the Spartans a taste of what big league talent looks like.
Theodore’s day was also done after three innings of work after giving up one earned run on three hits. Junior Mike Mestdagh came into the game to try and keep the Lugnuts at bay in relief for Theodore. Phil Kish entered the game for the Lugnuts.
In the top of the fourth, Kish struck out the first two batters, Salter and Jimmy Pickens, he faced and outfielder Cam Gibson was thrown at first for the third out. Mestdagh struggled early in the bottom of the inning, allowing a double and a single putting a man on first and third with no outs. The Spartans battled back as Mestdagh struck out catcher Nessy swinging and then forced outfielder Derrick Loveless to hit into a 1-6-3 double play.
Spartan first baseman Ryan Krill welcomed Lugnut relief pitcher Jesus Tinoco to the game with a shot up the middle for a single to begin the fifth inning for MSU. Tinoco slowed it down with his glove, but the Lugnuts were unable to get him out at first. Spartan catcher Fisher moved Krill over with an infield single that just managed to stay fair down the third baseline. With two guys on and one out, third baseman Hovis went down on strikes. Still with two men on, Cheky popped up high to first base.
The game progressed through the top of the sixth inning still with a 2-1 favor for the Lugnuts. The Lugnuts were not done with their offensive attack as they brought in another run in the bottom of the inning with a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Seth Conner.
Michigan State continued to battle in the seventh innings as redshirt freshman Alex Rapanos was able to move Krill into scoring position with two outs. True freshman pinch hitter Dan Durkin was then able to bring Krill home with a single through the left side of the infield and move within one run of the Lugnuts.
Durkin’s single began what felt like could have been a good two-out rally for MSU. With two men on, two outs and down a run, Connor Mohr pinch hit for Cheky. Mohr drew a walk which put PJ Nowak up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. The sophomore struck out swinging to end the Spartan late-inning rally.
With a man on third in the eighth inning, MSU’s Johnny Nate flied out to left to to end what would be the Spartans’ best hope at tieing the 3-2 lead the Lugnuts had manufactured.
The eighth annual Crosstown Showdown concluded with a final score of 3-2. MSU’s Theodore was credited with the loss, while Lansing’s Robson was awarded the win.
Michigan State returns to McLane Stadium and a collegiate opponent when the Spartans take on Siena in an upcoming weekend series. MSU will look to increase its current four-game winning streak in the regular season as it takes on the Saints in a three-game series starting this Saturday with a double header beginning at 12:05 p.m.
Zac Swierad is the host of Warning Track for Impact Sports.
Photo: Michigan State University Baseball