Michigan State’s baseball home opener looked to have been spoiled by grey skies, high wind, and pouring rain. This was dispelled with an impressive 4-1 win over Central Michigan on Wednesday.
“Tough conditions are not an excuse, but it is a reality,” coach Jake Boss Jr. said after the game. “It was tough to settle in, but our guys kept playing. That’s what we preach: you have to keep playing.”
The Spartans bounced back from their rough weekend in Florida, where they lost two games to the University of South Florida Bulls in their three-game series. Before the two losses, the Spartans were maintaining their best start in school history with a 14-1 record.
“We have a high priority on playing our in-state opponents,” said Boss Jr. “Our guys came out excited to play in the first home game of the year. We hit a lot of balls hard early, and the bullpen was lights out.”
The Spartans used a big third inning to take a 4-0 lead and needed nothing more. The inning started with junior transfer Jordan Zimmerman earning a free base after getting hit by a pitch, followed by junior Dan Durkin reaching on catcher interference. Sophomore Brandon Hughes scored Zimmerman on an infield single, and a single to left field by junior Taylor Grace drove Durkin home.
Michigan State starter Andrew Gonzalez pitched a strong five innings, allowing one unearned run and striking out three. Junior closer Joe Mockbee recorded his fourth save of the season, shutting the door in the eighth and ninth innings by recording six strikeouts for all six outs.
“I was just trying to be aggressive early, and I knew if I got ahead in the counts and put good pitches together I could get it done,” said Mockbee. “I love coming into a tight game. It really gets the adrenaline going. It means you have to be even more perfect than normal.”
Chippewa senior reliever Jimmy McNamara put on a stellar performance in relief, pitching 4 2/3 innings and giving up just two hits and no runs. The starter on the day, sophomore Colton Bradley, pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up one earned run (four total) on three hits.
Zimmerman continued his incredible season by going 2-for-3 at the plate and recording his eighth and ninth stolen bases of the year. He raised his batting average to a team-high .429, ranked third in the Big Ten and 28th in the country (both unofficially due to other action in today’s games around the country).
“Success is on the whole team, not just me,” said Zimmerman. “Pitching has been outstanding and hitting has been a lot better than expected. Making adjustments as the game goes on and seeing the pitches better have been the keys.”
The weather was clearly causing problems out on the diamond. There were seven errors in the game: five by the Chippewas and two by the Spartans. Rain persisted through the first few innings, even transitioning to hail for a brief time. The guys knew they had to move past it.
“Weather is not an excuse. You have to get out there and throw your best stuff every time,” sophomore Andrew Gonzalez said after the game. “It does definitely add a little hair to it.”
The Spartans, looking for their first Big Ten championship since 2011, improved their record to 15-3 with the win, while the Chippewas fell to 4-17. These two teams will square off again on April 13 for a matchup in Comerica Park.