Spartan Offense Rallies Past Rutgers

It was starting to feel like baseball season Sunday as the Spartans wrapped up their series with Rutgers in 60 degree weather. Get your brooms out because MSU was able to complete the series sweep in a nail-biter for their first Big Ten series of the season, defeating Rutgers 6-5.

An ice-cold Walter Borkovich took the mound for MSU after letting up 16 hits and nine runs in his last six innings of work. The woes for Borkovich continued as he committed a rare balk in the 1st to allow the Scarlet Knights to spark up the scoreboard, giving the visitors an early 1-0 lead.

A big bad inning has been Borkovich’s kryptonite, and Sunday was no exception. In the second inning, Rutgers scored four runs on four hits off the junior. Speedy Rutgers center fielder Jawuan Harris, who doubles as a wide receiver for the Scarlet Knight football team, stole two bases and was singled in by Nick Matera. With two outs another run was singled home by Mike Carter. Then in a bizarre series of events, Borkovich would try to pick off the runner on first who was already in motion, allowing the runner on third to go home. Then on another hit up the middle, Rutgers’ hit parade continued, giving them the early 5-0 lead.

“Never doubt with these guys. We know we’re in it,” said Spartan leadoff man Marty Bechina speaking on falling into an early hole. “There was never a doubt we weren’t going to score five runs.”

The Spartans responded in the bottom of the third. Dan Durkin advanced to second on a bloop single due to some heads-up baserunning. After advancing to third on a sacrifice fly, Durkin made it home after a ball batted by Kris Simonton would bounce off the pitcher’s glove. This put Michigan State on the board, still down 5-1.

Despite getting roughed up in the second, Borkovich was unfazed, retiring the side in 10 pitches. From then on, it was all Borkovich’s game.

“I was just trying to not think about it anymore, it already happened. I was just trying to keep our team in a position where we could win the game,” said Borkovich after the game. “I know our bats will come around, our team is swinging well this year.”

Borkovich would go on to retire 16 batters in a row before being taken out with 7.2 innings of work. He just needed some offense to complement his late pitching.

The opposing pitcher, John O’Reilly, would find a groove of his own, retiring seven Spartan batters in a row before MSU would finally break back into the hit column in the bottom of the sixth. Jordan Zimmerman singled and advanced to second on a muffed ball by the outfielder. A struggling Zack McGuire, back in the starting lineup, was able to single home Zimmerman and then advance to second on the throw home. The Spartans were now within three. Matt Byars then grounded out but allowed for a run to come home, putting the score at 5-3 in Rutgers’ favor after six innings of play.

Christian Campbell came on to pitch for Rutgers in the seventh. The new arm didn’t stop Bechina from cranking a home run to the scoreboard in left field, getting the Spartans back within one. A deep hole now seemed manageable for the young MSU lineup.

Hustle wins ball games, and in this game, a great hustle play by Taylor Grace may have been the deciding factor in the Spartans’ win.

After a Dan Durkin single, Taylor Grace grounded into what seemed like a routine double play. But he busted down the line, allowing him to be safe at first. Zimmerman then came up to hit the second homerun of the inning and his third of the year, giving Michigan State the lead, 6-5. Grace’s hustle saved the game as MSU would not score another run the rest of the ballgame.

“Our guys are going to play hard, I can guarantee you that. It’s the makeup of this team, and it’s what we’ve preached from day one,” said manager Jake Boss Jr. on how hustle saved the game. “Little things like that, that probably don’t show up in the scorebook, but are big, big plays in the course of a nine-inning ballgame.”

The go-to arm out of the bullpen, Dakota Mekkes, remained in the game for a ninth inning save situation. The sophomore gave the audience a little scare after walking one and giving up a misplayed fly ball to left field. But he was eventually able to shut the door, giving MSU their 18th win of the season and third in Big Ten play.

Michigan State will jump out of Big Ten play for a while as they host in-state rival Oakland on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m., followed by a weekend series in East Lansing versus the Oregon Ducks.