After expecting to return home and open the season at McLane Stadium last Wednesday against CMU, the Spartans instead had to endure a rainout, moving ahead to a weekend series in Lincoln, Nebraska. The three-game set marked the first Big Ten series of the year for MSU, which did play a single game against Ohio State earlier this year during the First Pitch Invitational.
The Spartans fared well in that game against the Buckeyes, winning 7-1 behind a complete game from Mike Mokma. This past weekend would prove to be less successful though, as the Cornhuskers handed Michigan State a three-game sweep in their first Big Ten action of the year.
The weekend set was supposed to be played on three separate days, but poor weather on Saturday forced the teams to play a doubleheader on Friday and conclude the series on Sunday. No baseball on Saturday meant the Spartans were able to make a short trip to Des Moines, Iowa to watch the Michigan State men’s basketball team advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over Minnesota.
These two teams last met in 2018 at McLane, with the Spartans winning two games and the other two contests being cancelled due to weather. This past series marked the only time Michigan State and Nebraska will meet in the regular season, as the Cornhuskers emerged victorious 4-1 and 5-2 on Friday, as well as 6-2 on Sunday. The Spartans are now 3-18 overall on the season.
Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s action:
Quiet bats prove problematic
The Spartans struggled at the dish during all three games in Lincoln, only scoring five runs in the series and no more than two runs in any individual game. This continued a trend from the previous UConn series, when Michigan State averaged just over three runs per game in the series.
One of the Spartans more productive hitters in 2019, first baseman Justin Antonic, went 1-for-11 in the series to lower his batting average to .269 on the year. Freshman Zaid Walker saw consistent action in the cleanup spot, going 2-for-11 after coming into the weekend hitting .275.
Michigan State continues to have trouble producing offensively this season, as the team is hitting .223 in 21 games played so far. Two home runs were hit in the series against Nebraska, but that only brought the season total up to 11. The Spartans have just 38 extra-base hits in 699 at-bats this season.
One bright spot emerging from this weekend was freshman Casey Mayes, who blasted his first home run as a Spartan on Sunday, a two-run shot in the eighth inning.
Mason Erla bounces back
Possibly the most important occurrence this past series was a stellar outing from the redshirt sophomore Erla, who needed some positive momentum in a big way. Erla entered the game with an ERA of 7.46 as the Spartans’ number-one starter, struggling after posting a 3.73 ERA in 79.2 innings in 2018.
His outing on Friday could be the start of a big second half to the 2019 season, as Erla surrendered just two earned runs while striking out six over 6.1 innings pitched. The start marked the first time Erla has worked into the seventh inning of a game this year.
This was not only a positive sign for Erla, but also the Spartans, who need contributions like this from him if they want to make a run in Big Ten play. These are the kind of performances that this team needs to leadoff the weekend after Jake Boss Jr. dubbed him the “Friday night” starter entering the season.
Home sweet home
After playing the first 21 games of the 2019 season on the road, the Spartans will now take the field at McLane Stadium for the first time on Wednesday. The opponent will be the Western Michigan Broncos, a team MSU will take on two times in the next week.
Last Wednesday was slated to be the day Michigan State opened its home schedule, but all-day rain forced the postponement of that game against CMU. Jesse Heikkinen will take the mound, making his third start of the season.