Spartans lose to Niagara, split four-game weekend series

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State Spartans baseball team (6-12) was defeated by the Niagara University Purple Eagles (4-10) on Sunday afternoon at McLane Baseball Stadium. The Spartans fell by a score of 12-10 in another game where errors cost them heavily.

“We didn’t play very clean baseball today,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said after Sunday’s loss. “We had too many guys that didn’t take accountability for what went on today.”

The Spartans committed three errors and a total of six unearned runs were scored by the Purple Eagles. On the pitching side, the Spartans walked five batters and plunked five, equating in 10 free baserunners for Niagara.

“We need to get a lot better,” Boss said.

Starting on the mound for the Spartans was sophomore Mike Mokma, which was the first start of the season for the righty. In the top half of the first inning, Mokma retired the Purple Eagles in order.

The Spartans’ first hit of the game came in the bottom of the second inning, when shortstop Ryan King lined an 0-1 pitch up the middle for a two-out single. With King on first base, first baseman Zack McGuire belted a pitch over the right-field fence for his second home run of the season, putting the Spartans on top, 2-0.

Usually a reliever for Jake Boss Jr.’s team, Mokma went back out in the fourth inning and plunked the leadoff hitter McCauley, putting a runner on base for the red-hot Cullen, who came into the game with a .522 average over 46 at-bats. Cullen slapped one into left field for his second hit of the game, and moved McCauley to third base. With runners on first and third, Mokma walked Battaglia to load the bases with nobody out.

The Purple Eagles would score their first run of the game thanks to a sacrifice fly to left off of the bat of Dziados, cutting their deficit to one run. Niagara would score another run via an RBI double from designated hitter Wyatt Olson that was hit over the head of Chmielewski in right field to tie the game at two runs apiece.

Second baseman Royce Ando led off the bottom half of the fourth inning, drawing a walk on four pitches. Ando advanced on a wild pitch during Iverson’s at bat, moving him into to scoring position. Iverson hit a slow roller to up the middle and beat out the throw from second base, giving the Spartans runners on first and third with nobody out, priming them to respond to the rally that Niagara put together in the top half of the inning.

Iverson was able to advance to second base on a wild pitch, making it two runners in scoring position. Two batters later, McGuire hit a hard ground ball up the middle that deflected off of Niagara pitcher Jackson Jones, who was able to collect himself and record the out, however, a run did score, giving the Spartans the lead once again.

Junior Evan Flohr took over on the mound for Mokma to start the fifth inning. He led off the inning with a walk before McCauley launched a 2-0 pitch over the right-field wall to give Niagara their first lead of the game, 4-3.

In the bottom of the fifth with one away, Kelley hit a routine fly ball to left field, but it was dropped by Gallup, allowing Kelley to reach second base on the error. Next up, Chmielewski lined one down the third base line for a triple, driving in Kelley to tie the game. Antoncic was able to give the Spartans the lead once again by tapping a bunt up the middle to score Chmielewski, making the score 5-4.

Sophomore Caleb Sleeman came on to pitch in the sixth inning for the Spartans, and did not start off well, letting up a leadoff double to Battaglia. Sleeman then walked Dziados to give the Purple Eagles two baserunners. Niagara tied the game up once again, as Olson singled up the middle to score Battaglia from second base.

Sleeman was able to bounce back nicely, however, striking out the next three batters consecutively to end the inning, limiting the Purple Eagles to just one run.

On to the top of seventh inning, Gabriele hit a ground ball to shortstop, but was able to reach base for Niagara off of a throwing error from King, his second throwing error of the series. Next, McCauley doubled down the right field line for his second hit of the game, putting runners on second and third for Cullen. Sleeman walked Cullen to set up a potential double play to get out of the inning. However, Battaglia hit a sacrifice fly to right field, allowing Gabriele to trot home from third base, giving Niagara the lead.  

Niagara would get one more run off of a fielder’s choice that was grounded to third base, in which Iverson threw to over to second base in an attempt to turn a double play. However, Ando wasn’t able to handle the throw, which allowed McCauley to score and give the Purple Eagles a 7-5 lead.

Niagara added a run in the top half of the eighth, as Sam Benschoter came into the game in relief and gave up a two-run single to Gabriele, which stretched the lead to 8-5.

In the bottom half of the eighth, Ando reached base on a fielding error by Cullen to give the Spartans a baserunner to start the inning, however, Ando was thrown out trying to advance to second on a wild pitch to record the first out of the eighth. Two batters later, King singled after an Iverson walk to put two runners on. After a wild pitch that advanced both runners, McGuire singled up the middle to score two, cutting the Spartans’ deficit down to one run.

In the top of the ninth, with Mitchell Tyranski on to pitch, Niagara would score two more runs off of a single up the middle, stretching Niagara’s lead back to three. After a pitching change that brought righty Jesse Heikkenen on to pitch, the Purple Eagles would score two more runs off of a single from McCauley, making the score 12-7.

Kelley led off the bottom of the ninth with a single to shortstop, his first hit of the game. The next batter, Chmielewski, drew a four-pitch walk to put two runners on for Antoncic. After both runners were able to advance on a wild pitch, Antoncic hit a sacrifice fly to right field, allowing Kelley to score and cut the lead to four.

The next batter, Kory Young, who took over for Ando after Ando injured himself while sliding, drew a walk to put runners at first and second. The next batter, Iverson drew a walk to load the bases for King, who had two hits already on the day.

King hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field to score Chmielewski from third, cutting the deficit down to three runs. After that, Young was able to come home on a wild pitch, bringing the score to 12-10 in favor of Niagara.However, it was too little too late for Michigan State, as the Spartans would go on to lose by that score.

“I like the way we competed today,” Boss said. “That was good to see, guys didn’t quit.”

In total, there was six lead changes between the Spartans and Purple Eagles in a back and forth game.

Final Line: WP – Ben Erwin ( 1 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 0 K)  LP – Caleb Sleeman (2 IP, 3 R, 3 H, 4 K)

The Spartans will return to action on Wed. March 21 against Central Michigan. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. EST. at McLane Baseball Stadium.

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