Spartan baseball drops series to Penn State, faces tough road to conference tournament

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Michigan State baseball traveled to State College, Pa. after final exams to resume conference play against Penn State. The Spartans (17-25, 8-9) dropped the series but avoided the sweep, salvaging the finale. A series loss this late in the season, with a conference tournament bid on the line, usually means trouble. It wasn’t the be-all or end-all for the Spartans, but they have their work cut out for them over their last few remaining weeks.

Game one wasn’t much of a game at all, as Penn State downed the Spartans 13-1 on Friday. Ethan Landon surrendered 10 runs and completed just three frames. However, there was a bright spot as Spartan shortstop Ryan King went 3-for-4 in his return from a concussion. King had three of MSU’s four hits; fellow freshman Adam Proctor tallied the other.

Due to inclement weather expected on Sunday, the two teams squared off in a doubleheader on Saturday. The Spartans dropped the opener but won the finale to avoid a sweep.

The trip to Happy Valley means much more than a series loss. It means more than dropping to 7-9 in league play and now having to scrap against two of the Big Ten’s best – Minnesota and Ohio State.

Michigan State baseball had one of the most favorable schedules in the Big Ten. They started their slate with Michigan and end it with Minnesota and Ohio State. Sandwiched in-between were meetings with Northwestern, Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland and Penn State. Those teams rank 9 through 13 in the standings and have a combined 25-64 conference record. That schedule is one you dream of if you’re looking to sneak your way into the conference tournament. Here lies the problem: MSU hasn’t taken care of business.

The Spartans did exactly what they needed to do against Northwestern – they swept them. A two-game series against the Cornhuskers resulted in a sweep as well. Since then, they’ve dropped a series to Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State. The Nittany Lions have three league wins – two are against the Green and White.

The fact of the matter is, they’re not getting the job done. That’s what’s haunted MSU in recent years. In 2015, the Spartans finished 36-20 and took second in the conference tournament but wasn’t awarded a national bid because they couldn’t win against quality opponents – or failed to schedule them, for that matter. Failing to make the Big Ten tournament in 2017 is another example of Spartan teams that haven’t gotten over the metaphorical hump. That hump isn’t as steep as it seems to be. Every goal, every league championship and tournament is achievable and should be expected.

Back-to-back series losses put them in the eighth and final spot in the conference standings. If the season ended today, they’d be playing in Omaha. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the season ends after a meeting with the Gophers and Buckeyes. Those two have already earned themselves a spot in the conference tournament, but you can bet they won’t take the foot off the pedal as they’ll be playing for seeding.

Another reason to be hopeful includes the schedule the remaining teams fighting for the eighth spot have. Rutgers and Maryland come in at ninth and 11th, respectively. They square off against one another this upcoming weekend. Rutgers finishes off their season against league-leading Minnesota. Nebraska, who’s also in the mix, ends their season against a strong Illinois team.

Despite MSU’s rugged remaining games, it’s possible they receive some help from other teams. If need be, they can have Nebraska come back to East Lansing to finish two games that were cancelled due to weather back in early April. Or, maybe they’ll take the trip to Lincoln in search of those victories. Regardless, they’ll need every opportunity to grab a win with the season winding down.

MSU takes on Michigan in East Lansing, Mich. in a non-conference meeting on Wednesday. First pitch from McLane Stadium is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

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