Win Over Indiana Shows Volatile Side of MSU

It was a  packed house as the Michigan State Spartans (26-9, 7-3)  squared off against  visiting Big Ten rival Indiana Hoosiers (22-14, 7-3) on Saturday. It was an important game for the two teams that hold the lowest ERAs in the Big Ten and are tied for third in the Big Ten standings.

It was a beautiful Michigan spring afternoon and  a lively day on the MSU campus. Just behind McLane stadium the Spartan football team played their annual Green vs. White scrimmage.

Michigan State went on to defeat Indiana 9-0, in yet another game where the bats exploded and pitching was lights out. It truly captures how on any given day MSU can be one of the most deadly teams in the country with their stunning combination of pitching and hitting.

Going into today, MSU was flirting with the second best team ERA in school history, posting a 2.44 prior to today’s events. The record stands at 2.30, set all the way back in 1965. The starting pitcher Ethan Landon helped the cause,throwing 72/3 shutout innings.

Due to transfer rules, Landon had to sit out for most of last year. He spoke about how that made him the consistent starter he is today–, he hasn’t allowed 2 runs in any of his starts except for the first one.

“Last year was vital for me to get my body right and make sure my offspeed pitches were good enough for me to be a starter,” he said.

Landon says he owes a lot of his success to pitching coach Skylar Meade.

Spartan for life

Landon, whose father was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan says he loves how much love the athletics get at Michigan State, and that growing up a Spartan makes every start a little more special.

“It was my childhood dream to come here and it’s a very cool experience to come out here and wear the green and white,” he said.

Landon’s final stats were 7.2 innings pitched, allowing no runs on five hits and three walks, while striking out six.

Defense to the rescue

Indiana had multiple chances to score, putting Landon in a lot of high pressure situations throughout the game, but thanks to the eight guys behind him Landon held the shutout.

In the second inning, Indiana’s Austin Cangelosi was gunned at the plate on a throw from right fielder Kris Simonton. It was then cut off by  first basemen Jordan Zimmerman to throw an eventual dart to catcher Matt Byars to record the out and save the run.

With the bases loaded in the third and only one out, shortstop Kory Young, who previously committed an error, fielded a sharp hit ground ball for a Taylor Made 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and save a run.

Again in the fourth inning with a runner on second and one out, Young made a poor throw to first that would allow none other than Cangelosi to reach safely putting runners on the corners. This time it was third baseman Just Hovis sparking up a 5-4-3 double play to yet again, save a run and end the inning.

Small ball wins… No, wait, mashing a seven run sixth inning wins games

Although MSU is well past the midseason mark, pinpointing its exact identity has been a struggle. Will the Spartans be able to mash its way to victory every game, or will it have to battle to scratch across a few? Well today, like so many other games, the Spartans had one big inning sprinkled in with some small ball.

When looking at the teams MSU has scored six or more runs against, there isn’t much of a correlation to who they are beating. Take a look at the team ERAs of all teams MSU scored six plus runs against (most recent in descending order):

 *All numbers as of April 21

Opponent (Date included if there were multiple games in the series) Team Era
Indiana 4/23 2.70
Western Michigan 7.03
Purdue 4/15 5.79
Central Michigan 4/13 6.06
Michigan 3.20
Penn State 4/8 and 4/10 3.30
Rutgers 3/27 4.14
USF 3/18 3.67
North Dakota State 4.86
Saint Joseph’s 4.10
Butler 6.06
FGCU 5.04
Illinois State 5.35
UCF 4.29
Texas A&M Corpus-Christi 4.25
Fordham 3.88
Furman 6.69
Presbyterian 5.12

Manager Jake Boss Jr. spoke on how this offense will only be good for two runs one day and explode for nine runs the next.

“That’s the game of baseball. You’re successful three out of ten times and you’re really really good, that’s how the game goes,” Boss said chuckling. “Some days you hit the ball hard and it’s just right at a guy. That’s the nature of the game. The only thing we can do is continue to have a good approach and it will even itself out.”

It can be a frustrating sport. Even when the players  are doing everything they are supposed to it can take a while for the production to come.

“I thought we we’re close yesterday and just couldn’t get that one big hit, and that was kind of the same thing early today,” said Boss. “It’s like when you get guys on second and third and nobody out, and we only score one we get frustrated, and it seems like we’re working our tail off to just get something to happen. But that’s just the name of the game, I thought we had good approaches both days, now we have something to show for it.”

Boss has been trying out new lineups and batting guys in different spots throughout the week to maybe change up the mojo of the offense.

Left fielder Marty Bechina also spoke on the idea that if the team keeps plugging away, runs will come.

“You understand as an offense you’re going to struggle. As much as hitting is contagious so is not hitting. Staying with it is our main focus,” said the freshman Bechina. “We’ve been working on taking the ball the other way a lot in practice. So we got to stay with that approach and trust it will come through at some point.”

Against a top tier Hoosier pitching staff, MSU was going to have to do anything they could to get a run (at least so they thought).  With that in mind, aggressive baserunning played a huge role in scoring the first run of the contest.

After a Taylor Grace walk, Simonton skipped one through the shortstop, third base gap and the ball took a jump at the Indiana left fielder. Grace saw this error and bolted to third base despite it being an easy throw for the left fielder. On a close, head first slide, Grace got an extra base on the single. This allowed him to score on a Justin Hovis ground ball which would otherwise be a double play. Emphasizing these little things is going to be huge for this team going forward in Big Ten play and the postseason.

Another case of small ball came in the third when Brandon Hughes was on third base after walking and a Dan Durkin single. Bechina, the clean up hitter, put on the safety squeeze bunt to get Hughes home for the third run of the game. Very rare to see a cleanup hitter do that, but it is what this team must do to score against tough pitching staffs like Indiana’s.

Later in the sixth, the team exploded for seven runs on eight hits, proving once more that on any given day this team can compete with the best if the hit train is rolling.

This was MSU’s sixth shutout on the campaign.

Michigan State finishes their series with the Hoosiers Sunday at 3:05 p.m. as Joe Mockbee makes his first start to the season.