Pitching Battle Turns Into A Historic Win for the Fighting Irish

Amid overcast skies at McLane Stadium, another midweek game turned into a disappointment for the Michigan State baseball team.

Lefty pitcher Keegan Baar threw 7 1/3 strong innings, but a home run to left from Notre Dame catcher Ryan Lidge in the top of the sixth inning turned into the only run on the board, and a 1-0 loss for the Spartans (25-8). The win for the Fighting Irish (22-12) was their first in East Lansing since 1986, before any of the players on this year’s Notre Dame team were born.

Lidge’s round tripper was his first of the season, and just the third of his collegiate career for the catcher from Barrington, IL. It was one of just three hits surrendered by Baar, who pitched his best game of the season to date. The sophomore lefty was pleased with his start, home run excluded.

“It was a changeup, it didn’t sink away and it stayed in the zone,” Baar said. “My control on the changeup was alright, sometimes pretty good, some of them did get away.”

Baar needed 109 pitches to get through 7/13 innings, and struck out four Fighting Irish batters to suffer his first loss of the season. His control, which has been a question mark at times in the past, was unwavering, as he threw 70 of his 109 pitches for strikes, and did not allow a hit to the 3 through 8 hitters for Notre Dame. Head coach Jake Boss Jr. had high praise for Baar after the game.

[su_quote]Baar threw 70 of his 109 pitches for strikes, and did not allow a hit to the 3 through 8 hitters for Notre Dame.[/su_quote]

“That outing is definitely what he’s capable of,” Boss said. “He was great, pitched great, deserved a lot better. I told our offensive guys they owed him an apology, because he deserved a better effort out of our offense.”

That last statement was definitely true for the Spartan offense. Back in the top 25 at the No. 23 spot according to Baseball America, the Spartans had some momentum heading into the game. An offense that was second in the Big Ten and twentieth nationally in batting average entering Tuesday’s games was held to just seven hits by Notre Dame senior lefty Michael Hearne. Hearne made Notre Dame history on the day, becoming the first pitcher in program history to throw back-to-back complete games since 2009, and shutting out the hot Spartan offense.

The game was a pitcher’s duel through five innings. The first Spartan baserunner didn’t come until the bottom of the third inning, as catcher Chad Byers singled up the middle with two outs to start the Spartan offense. Left fielder Marty Bechina then singled past the pitcher’s mound, but was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double. Notre Dame had similar trouble with Baar, who was perfect through 4 1/3 innings until hitting Irish first baseman Nick Podkul with a pitch to lose the perfect game.

Baar got out of the fifth unscathed, but with nobody out, Lidge hit a 2-2 changeup off the scoreboard in left field to give the Irish a lead they would hold the rest of the game. Baar was comfortable after that, getting through the sixth and seventh before being relieved by lefty reliever Joe Mockbee.

Hearne had relatively little trouble until the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Spartans had the top of their order up to bat. Bechina collected his second single of the game before first baseman Jordan Zimmerman singled to center field to put two men on with nobody out. However, the Notre Dame defense came up huge.

A sacrifice bunt down the third base line from second baseman Dan Durkin was fielded and fired to third by Hearne, who managed to throw out a sliding Bechina by a split second. There was hope for the tying run after center fielder Brandon Hughes lined a single to center field, as Zimmerman rounded third and was headed home. A one-hop throw from defensive substitute center fielder Kyle Richardson beat Zimmerman by a couple steps, and Lidge managed to keep control of the ball through the slide. Chad Roskelly, fresh off an injury and slotting into the designated hitter role, grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game and give Hearne his fifth win of the season.

The Spartans are back in action Wednesday afternoon, facing off with the Western Michigan Broncos at home. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.