Spartan bats blanked by Michigan in series opener


Photo: Luke Sloan/WDBM

Luke Sloan, Assistant Sports Editor

EAST LANSING, Mich. – After a 3-2 win over the Western Michigan Broncos to snap an eight-game losing streak and open the home slate, the momentum gained by the Spartans was quickly shuttered by a 6-3 loss due to one man, Michigan’s Tommy Henry.

The Wolverines’ ace was masterful on a sunny afternoon at McLane Stadium, setting down the last 13 batters he faced to complete eight strong innings of work and secure a victory. He was sharp from start to finish, only allowing two earned runs on three hits while striking out four.

The power left-hander Henry improved to 6-1 on the 2019 season, with his miniscule ERA rising from 0.45 to 0.76 in nine starts. Michigan State hitters looked overpowered for most of the contest, struggling to produce quality scoring chances through the first eight innings.

“We knew he was going to throw strikes, and we knew what we were going to get,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said following the game. “We wanted to stay aggressive, and I think we did that for the most part, we just didn’t hit any balls hard.”

Mason Erla opposed Henry in a battle of each team’s number-one starter, he was more effective than his final line indicated, keeping his team in the game during the early goings. After Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead, a Bailey Peterson single scored Royce Ando and Marty Bechina to cut the lead to a single run in the bottom of the fourth. But that was as close as the Spartans would make it.

Michigan immediately responded in the top half of the fifth, using three straight doubles from Jordan Brewer, Miles Lewis and Blake Nelson to score two runs and extend the lead to 5-2. Henry would take it from there. The 6-foot-3 junior didn’t allow a baserunner for the remainder of his outing, earning win No. 15 for his career.

The Spartans would tack on one run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a Dan Chmielewski RBI double, but it proved to be too little, too late, as Michigan State dropped its fourth straight Big Ten game.

Erla entered the game coming off his most successful outing of 2019, a start that only saw two earned runs in 6.1 innings of work at Nebraska. He would finish six innings Friday against the Wolverines, but he was less effective, giving up five earned runs on 10 hits.

“Mason (Erla) pitched better than his line would indicate,” Boss said. “We didn’t make a couple plays for him and allowed two runs. He pitched better than what his line shows and went deeper into the game.”

The Spartans didn’t commit an error on the afternoon, but two of Erla’s runs came across after a handful of inopportune defensive plays. Ando bobbled a slow roller to second base in the top of the fourth, allowing enough time for Joe Donovan to safely make it to first. He would come around after right fielder Zaid Walker misplayed a short fly ball down the line, allowing it to drop in for an RBI single. These plays both occurred with two outs.

In the top of the fifth, the center fielder Chmielewski couldn’t locate a ball due to the sun, allowing it to drop in for a double from Brewer. He would eventually come around to score, growing the Wolverines’ lead to two runs after the Spartans scored a pair in the bottom of the fourth to tighten up the game.

“We just didn’t execute when we needed to,” Boss said. “All day long and in every fasset.”

Michigan State now falls to 4-19 on the season and 0-4 in Big Ten play. Michigan, on the other hand, improves to 18-7 after finishing third in the Big Ten last season. Friday’s game marked the Wolverines’ first in conference play.

Peterson finished the day 1-for-3 with two RBI, as the other two Spartan hits off Henry were collected by Nic Lacayo and Bechina. Lewis and Nelson were both 3-for-5 with two RBI on the day for the Wolverines.

Erla pitched six innings while allowing 10 hits, five earned runs and three walks to go along with two strikeouts. Henry’s eight innings of work were highlighted by just three hits and two earned runs being allowed, he also struck out four.

These two teams will continue their three-game series tomorrow, as the action moves to Ann Arbor for the middle game of the series. Mitchell Tyranski will take the hill for the Spartans, he will be opposed by Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann.