Happy Ride Home for Spartan Baseball

Leading up to this point, Michigan State baseball did what they needed to reach the Big Ten tournament in Omaha, Neb.

They needed one victory yesterday in a double-header against Penn State to clinch a spot and they did just that.

At the same time, they were looking to hold onto their half-game lead over Iowa in the conference standings.

With a loss in the final game of the series today at Penn State, the Spartans could have potentially dropped down as far as eighth place in the standings, which would mean they would face the No. 18 ranked Indiana Hoosiers in the first round of the tournament.

MSU not only helped their tournament seeding in the 7-6 win on Saturday, but they played spoiler in the Nittany Lions’ senior day.

“It was a really good win. It was rather sloppy at the start,” pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde to Spartan Sports Network said, “but any win is a good win.”

In the bottom of the first, the sloppiness started from a baulk on Spartan pitcher Cam Vieaux. It brought in a runner in from third for Penn State, and then a sacrifice fly added another run for the Nittany Lions who took an early 2-0 lead.

After a disappointing first inning, the Spartans came back in the second with a run. Ryan Krill hit a stand-up double, Ryan Richardson got on base and Justin Hovis knocked in Richardson with a line shot to center to make it a 2-1 ballgame. Cam Gibson had a chance to send home Johnny Nate, but he could not get the job done.

Two more runs came in for the Nittany Lions in the second inning to make it 4-1 through two innings.

Vieaux was pulled after two innings of work and reliever Walter Borkovich was called upon for lengthy relief. Van Ameyde knew that the relief pitchers had to make due in a tight spot early in the game.

“All of the guys that came out of the pen today…they made some pitches in some spots that we’ve been inconsistent with in the last few weeks. They did a good job,” Van Ameyde said.

The Spartan offense added some firepower in the fourth to help the pitching staff. The fourth inning was especially big for Michigan State, as Gibson and Hovis each tacked on an RBI to bring the game to a 4-4 tie.

Then the Spartans took the lead, 5-4, on an RBI single from Anthony Cheky. It was the first lead of the game for the Spartans, as they put four runs on the board in the fourth inning.

Each team kept clawing back after the other. Penn State tied the game again at 5-5 after a sacrifice fly from first baseman Greg Guers.

In the top of the sixth, MSU had a chance to take the lead again with a runner on third with one out. Hovis came through in the clutch with a sacrifice fly to bring home Richardson, who stole second and advanced on an out to put him into scoring position. MSU took the lead back again, 6-5.

After a pitch got away from Spartan catcher Joel Fisher to move Nittany Lions’ Ryan Keefe over to third, Keefe then scored unearned after a pick-off over to first base.

A throwing error by Nittany Lions’ catcher Alex Farkes gave the lead back to the Spartans, 7-6.

They held onto the league heading into the ninth, and Spartan pitcher Jeff Kinley came out to close the game out for MSU.

MSU they held onto win, 7-6, and Kinley also wrapped up his twelfth save of the season setting the MSU single season save record. Coach Van Ameyde was impressed.

“Kinnley is one of those guys in particular who may be playing as well as he has played all year,” Van Ameyde said. “This is the sharpest I’ve seen him all year. Just dynamite here.”

“He’s been pitching with a lot of confidence, it’s outstanding to see,” Van Ameyde added.

MSU swept Penn State on the road and now head to Omaha, Neb. for the Big Ten tournament on a three-game winning streak.

“These guys should go into the tournament feeling that they have a good of a shot as anybody,” Van Ameyde said. “We have the pitching to hold guys in, and I feel like if we’re running the bases and making them force the action a little bit, our offense is as good as anyone out there.”

Tournament action starts on Wednesday. Michigan State will wait to see their seeding and time of the first game, and it is expected to be released on Sunday.

Illinois, a team the Spartans fell just inches short of several weeks ago in Champaign, Ill. could be a strong possibility.

Alex Scharg is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.

Photo: Hannah McEnroe/Impact Sports