Spartans Blow Late Lead, Fall to Chippewas in the Ninth

Coming off an all important 4-2 win over University of Michigan Tuesday night, the Michigan State Spartans were back at it again on Wednesday evening to face Central Michigan, who was 24-12 coming into the Comerica Clash in Detroit.

The Chippewas sent RHP Blake Hibbits (0-2, 6.23 ERA in 3 appearances this season) to the mound, facing off against LHP Keegan Baar (0-0, 6.75 ERA in four relief appearances) for the Spartans. MSU loaded the bases with zero outs in the top of the first inning, and got on the board early thanks to a Blaise Salter sacrifice fly.  After the bases were loaded again by the Spartans, Chad Roskelly grounded out to shortstop, stranding runners on base and only coming away with one run. Keegan Baar had an uneventful first, walking the leadoff man but then getting the next three outs.

Alex Troop started off the top of the second with a single to right center field.  After a Cam Gibson drag bunt down the first base line, Michigan State had runners in scoring position. Mark Weist hit a slow roller to third, and after an error by Central Michigan third baseman Joe Houlihan, MSU scored to put them up 2-0 early on.

Baar got into a jam, loading the bases in the second, but was able to get out unharmed as the Chippewas still hadn’t cracked the scoreboard.  Blake Hibbits was pulled by CMU after 2 2/3 innings of work, bringing in Jimmy McNamara.  He promptly gave up a two-run double to Troop down the right field line, as Michigan State had an early 4-0 lead.  Keegan Baar went 1-2-3 in the third inning and was rolling for MSU.

After a Gibson flyout and a Ryan Krill liner up the middle snagged by the pitcher (web gem nominee to say the least), Weist doubled down the right field line.  Blaise Salter singled to right, scoring Weist as he made an acrobatic move to avoid the tag at home, scoring another run for Michigan State.

Heading to the bottom of the fourth inning, MSU led CMU 5-0, and Keegan Baar was going to keep it that way. After a leadoff single and a wild pitch, Baar got two groundouts and a popout to get through four innings unscathed. Dan Durkin then got another RBI for the Spartans to push their lead to 6-0 in the fifth inning.

Mark Weist’s bare-handed play to throw out Borglin at first highlighted the inning for the Spartans, as the Chippewas stranded a runner at third base. Josh Pierce replaced McNamara for the sixth on the mound for CMU and after 5 1/3 innings of ball, Baar was pulled for Walter Borkovich by Michigan State manager Jake Boss Jr.

Pierce made quick work of MSU in the seventh, as did Borkovich of the Chippewas. Weist crossed the plate in the top of the eighth thanks to a Ryan Richardson single to put Michigan State ahead 7-0. Things were looking good for the Spartans, but from here on it was all downhill, slowly but steadily.

Anthony Misiewicz, who pitched almost a gem out of the bullpen last weekend against Northwestern, got some relief work in the eighth inning for MSU. But things didn’t go as planned. Misiewicz walked the bases loaded and got the hook, bringing in Andrew Gonzalez. He threw a wild pitch, allowing in CMU’s first run.

Nick Regnier then collected a RBI with a sacrifice fly. but Gonzalez limited the damage, escaping the inning as the game moved to the ninth with MSU leading CMU 7-2.

After a relatively clean top half, Brandon Hughes came in to try to finish off the deal on the mound, but got into some trouble as he loaded the bases. After a groundout and a 2-run double, MSU’s lead was suddenly only two, as CMU trailed 7-5. Boss Jr. brought in Jeff Kinley to try and get the final two outs of the game. It didn’t start off well, as he hit the first batter Logan Regnier. Nick Regnier, strided to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the possible winning run. He put down a bunt and was called safe to load the bases with one out as Joe Houlihan came to the plate.

Kinley walked Houlihan to bring another run home, bringing up Daniel Jipping with the winning run in scoring position. He hit a sacrifice fly to center field and the game was now tied at 7-7. Before you could even take a breath, Morgan Oliver came to the plate with a chance to win the game for Central Michigan as the winning run was 90 feet away. And that’s exactly what he did, walking off a win for the Chippewas late, 8-7.

“We kept fighting and Mo [Morgan Oliver] came through.” said CMU manager Steve Jaska.  Oliver talked about the camaraderie at CMU.

“We’re brothers in that locker room, we never give up until that last out is done,” said Oliver after the walk-off, who mentioned that he thought about quitting baseball the summer of his freshman year.  “That was the lowest point of my life […] but I’ve worked so hard to be where I am right now and I’ve never been happier.”

When asked how the morale was in the dugout during the last two innings, Michigan State manager Jake Boss Jr. struggled to come up with a description.  “Obviously not good. I don’t quite understand how morale is not good when you’re up 7-0 in the eighth [inning], but it wasn’t. Obviously we are not as good as we think we are.  I need to do a better job of keeping out guys motivated […] that’s unacceptable on our part,”said Boss. “There’s a difference between wanting to win and hoping to win, and that’s not going to get it done in the eighth and the ninth [innings].”

Senior Blaise Salter said that “It’s tough,” losing a game at Comerica Park like this, where he grew up dreaming of playing.  “Hopefully we can use this as motivation going into this weekend.  We just didn’t finish the game tonight […] we’re a better pitching staff than we showed tonight.”

Coach Boss reflected on what went wrong at the end of the game. “We walked nine guys on the night and hit two.  I think we walked six in the last two innings and that’s a recipe for disaster,” added Boss. “But credit Central Michigan for not quitting. They could’ve rolled over, like we did. And that’s why they’re 25-12 and we’re 19-16.”

The Spartans travel to New Jersey to take on Rutgers University this weekend in a three game series.  This series could be pivotal, as more Big Ten opponents such as Indiana, Purdue and Penn State are in the near future for MSU as well.