Michigan State battled through 14 innings last week in their game against Central Michigan. This time around against Western Michigan, with a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, Matt Byars had the bases loaded and knew he had to avoid another extra innings game.
“I wasn’t really trying to do too much,” said Byars, the junior catcher, after the game. “I was 0-for-4 coming into that at-bat so I was really just trying to get the ball in play and see what I could do for the team. We had one out there and I was just trying to not strikeout and do everything I could to put the ball in play.”
Byars hit a sharp line drive into right field to score sophomore Brandon Hughes and give the No. 23 Spartans (26-8, 7-2 Big Ten) a walk-off 6-5 win Wednesday afternoon over Western Michigan (9-24, 2-7 MAC). The hit was his first of the game and extended his hitting streak to a team-best 10 games.
Hughes and junior Dan Durkin drew walks to open the frame, and a perfect sacrifice bunt from freshman Marty Bechina advanced the runners. Sophomore Kory Young walked to load the bases, and Byars did his job.
“We made a little bit of progress today, and it was good to get the win,” coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “We got a couple big at-bats there in the ninth, and we hit the balls harder today. We took some steps forward with this one.”
Michigan State sophomore Jake Lowry entered in the top of the ninth with a 5-3 lead, but gave up a solo home run on the first pitch to pinch hitter Nate Grys. After striking out back-to-back batters, a walk to Jesse Forestell kept the Broncos alive, and an RBI single from Connor Smith tied the game at five.
“It seemed like after they tied it up there in the top of the inning everybody had a little extra fire under their butts,” said Byars. “Everything worked out pretty well for us today. We got the ‘dub’ and that’s all that really matters.”
Sophomore Andrew Gonzalez pitched a strong six innings in his start for the Spartans, despite taking the no-decision. He allowed six hits and three runs on 97 pitches, while punching out four in his fifth start of the year. Gonzalez has entered an important role for the Spartans as the primary weekday starter, and he feels comfortable in it.
“I like it a lot. I like knowing when I’m going to throw, too,” said Gonzalez. “I’ve been a starter my whole life, so it’s great to have a day where I know I’m going to start. It helps me set my mind straight and get ready for the game.”
Freshman reliever Riley McCauley shut the door in relief for Gonzalez, pitching two innings and retiring the Broncos in order in both frames. Lowry entered in the ninth and allowed his two runs, but earned the win after the walk-off in the bottom frame.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” said Boss Jr., regarding Lowry’s performance. “He had some things he needed to work on, and he was coming off a tough weekend as well. So the plan was to get him out there for an inning. He’ll be better the next time he pitches, I’m certain about that.”
The Broncos did not take long to reach the scoreboard, with Nick Vogelmeier and Drew Farmer hitting back-to-back doubles into the outfield gaps to open the game, giving Western a 1-0 lead. Later in the inning, with Broncos on first and third and one out, Gonzalez struck out two straight batters to get out of the early jam.
The Spartans had a huge second inning by scoring three two-out runs. Junior Jordan Zimmerman had the bases loaded and fought a long 11-pitch battle with pitcher Jake Szott, who entered the game for starter Jake Bartles after pitching just one inning. Zimmerman forced a walk to bring the first run across, and Hughes smacked a single into right field to drive in sophomore Chad Roskelly and senior Justin Hovis, giving the Spartans the 3-1 lead.
Roskelly has been slowly returning from injury by making his way into the lineup as a designated hitter. He started in just his ninth game today and played at catcher for the first time since March 8. Roskelly is a huge asset for the Spartans to get back as Big Ten play continues, as having multiple guys available behind the plate is huge.
“I’ve had Chad catching me for four years now,” said Gonzalez. “It’s been since those summers in high school, so I’m really comfortable with him back there. To have two guys back there is huge for us.”
In a 3-3 sixth-inning tie, Roskelly reached on an error by the shortstop to open the inning. After he stole second base on a wild pitch, Hovis hit a single into center field to drive him home, giving the Spartans the 4-3 lead. An insurance run was added in the seventh inning to add up to a two-run lead.
Michigan State broke a two-game losing streak with the win over Western. The slide started when they could not complete the sweep over Purdue last weekend, losing 5-3. The series was the second in a row the Spartans had won, but failed to sweep by losing the final game on Sunday.
“The goal is to win the weekend, every time. For whatever reason we got outplayed on Sunday, but the goal is to win the series,” Boss Jr. said. “It’s hard to sweep anybody, anywhere in the country. Those are pretty rare, and the goal is to win the series and we will put ourselves in an opportunity to do that.”
The Spartans, currently leading the Big Ten, look forward to a tough test this weekend as they host the Indiana Hoosiers (21-14, 6-3 Big Ten). This will be the fourth conference series the Spartans have played thus far.
“We felt like we needed a little momentum going into the weekend and hopefully this does that for us,” said Boss Jr. “You always want to go into a Big Ten weekend feeling good about yourself. Hopefully we took some small steps forward today, we’ll practice tomorrow and work on a couple things, and then we’ll be ready for the weekend.”
The series kicks off Friday at McLane Baseball Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.