Two clutch hits from catcher Matt Byars and a six-run bottom of the eighth earned Michigan State (29-11, 9-5 B1G) an emotional 7-6 win over rival Michigan (29-11, 9-4 B1G) on Saturday afternoon at McLane Stadium. Byars extended his hitting streak to 16 games in the process via a seventh inning home run, the first run of the game for the Spartans, who came off an 11-inning loss in Ann Arbor on Friday night.
That run was considered nothing more than a consolation at the time thanks to a hot start from the Wolverines. An early walk from starter Ethan Landon led to an RBI single from catcher Harrison Wenson to put an early run on the board for Michigan, and center fielder Cody Bruder hit his first home run of the season deep over the 375 sign in left-center field to put two more runs on the board.
Wenson was a thorn in the Spartans’ side all game. He later hit a sacrifice fly in the third inning and a double in the fifth to bring home two more runs.
After five innings it looked bleak for the Spartans, who were down 5-0 and failing to string much together against Michigan starter Oliver Jaskie.
Everything changed for the Spartans in the bottom of the seventh. Byars hit his fourth home run of the season over the left-center wall, the third hit Jaskie had given up all game.
“I got into a hitter’s count, he left a ball up and I ended up putting a good swing on it,” Byars said.
The bottom of the eighth proved even more fruitful for the Spartans. Pinch hitter Dan Chmielewski started off with a single to center. Shortstop Royce Ando’s bunt attempt was popped in front of Jaskie, who couldn’t throw to either base, and was charged with an error. Center fielder Brandon Hughes then doubled off the left field wall to score Chmielewski with nobody out.
With one out and and the bases loaded, Spartan left fielder Marty Bechina then singled into center, scoring two to make it 5-4 Michigan with one out. Byars was up next, and after a wild pitch moved runners to second and third, a poked single into left scored second baseman Dan Durkin to tie the game at five.
Designated hitter Zack McGuire was out of the lineup for most of the season, but has forced his way back into a starting role with some power in recent games. While the swing he put on a 1-2 pitch wasn’t exactly powerful, the dribbler through the middle of the infield scored Byars and Bechina to make the score 7-5 Spartans.
“I was excited to get up there in that situation, runners in scoring position, already tied game,” McGuire said. “With the infield in, I was actually trying to get something to the outfield, but either way we managed to score the two runs.”
Spartan coach Jake Boss Jr. was impressed with the hitting performance from the Spartans.
“It’s a critical point in the conference season, and we showed a lot of character today by stringing together a few runs in the eighth.” Boss Jr. said.
Landon settled down to go 8 ⅔ innings, throwing 125 pitches in the process. The sophomore righty gave up ten hits, but struck out seven Wolverines. He kept Michigan off the board until the top of the ninth, when a Jake Bivens RBI double made it 7-6 and threatened to spoil the party in front of a raucous crowd at McLane Baseball Stadium. Jake Lowery came in and needed just one pitch to close out the game.
The Spartans now have a chance to win the series in Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon, a fact that isn’t lost on this team.
“There’s still a long way to go, and there’s a lot that can happen, but we’ve been scratching and clawing to get where we’re at,” Boss Jr. said.
First pitch in Ann Arbor tomorrow is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST.,