Spartans head to Minneapolis, battle three Pac-12 teams

The Dairy Queen Classic/Pac-12 vs. Big Ten challenge heads to Minneapolis, Minn. from March 2-4, and hosts a handful of teams with high 2018 expectations. From out west, Washington (4-3), No. 14 UCLA (7-1) and Arizona (5-3) will make the trip for the three-game showdown. B1G teams include Illinois (3-3), Michigan State (2-5) and host Minnesota (7-2).

MSU’s Red Cedar River has overflowed and flooded McLane Stadium yet again. This has affected the Spartans in years past and continues to be a problem. The Lansing Lugnuts opened their doors for the Spartans this past week and let them practice in Cooley Law School Stadium. The Spartans were grateful for the opportunity to practice in Lansing, on a field which is in “spectacular shape,” according to coach Jake Boss Jr.

MSU vs. Washington (Friday, March 2; 4 p.m. ET)

MSU will send Riley McCauley (0-1) to the mound to begin the weekend against the Huskies’ Joe DeMers (1-0). McCauley impressed in his opening-day start against the Fresno State Bulldogs, but he struggled against the Waves in his last start against Pepperdine. He was tagged for five runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings, receiving his first loss of the year.

A lot of national attention has been geared towards DeMers in the last week, as he completed a perfect game – the first in Huskies history. In two starts, DeMers has given up three hits, three walks and struck out 16. He has yet to give up an earned run in 15 innings. There’s no telling how the MSU offense will handle DeMers, but if there’s a silver lining, no pitcher has ever thrown back-to-back perfect games.

MSU vs. No. 14 UCLA (Saturday, March 3; 12 p.m. ET)

UCLA shouldn’t count on flying under anyone’s radar or surprising any teams this weekend. The Bruins are one of the most successful programs in the country and their success is sustained, year after year. In 2013, they won the College World Series, avenging their appearances which fell short in 2010 and 2012.  John Savage has reached the postseason nine times in his 14 years at the head of the Bruins program.

Ethan Landon (0-1) will take on a high-powered Bruins offense that scores nearly eight runs per game. Landon held the Waves to two runs in his last outing in Malibu. He pitched well but didn’t pitch long enough to earn the win – Mitchell Tyranski picked it up in relief. The Spartans will have to boost their .208 batting average if they want to compete against UCLA. Opponents have out-hit the Spartans, scored more runs and have struck out less than the Green and White. If that continues, look for the Bruins to cruise to a victory, especially with Jon Olsen (1-0) on the hill. Olsen is scheduled to start against the Spartans. He was named a third-team Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

MSU vs. Arizona (Sunday, March 4; 11 a.m. ET)

The Arizona Wildcats have already squared off against a Big Ten team this season. They did so in San Diego against Michigan, winning 9-5, in what was their only win of last weekend. They competed in the star-studded Tony Gwynn Classic, dropping three of four. Still, the ‘Cats roll into Minneapolis with a 2.01 ERA and have allowed only 20 runs through eight games – the least since 2007.

Mason Erla (1-0) is scheduled to take the ball in the finale against Arizona. Erla, the redshirt freshman, dazzled in his outing at Pepperdine. He threw five innings and allowed two hits in his outing. With the help of Caleb Sleeman, Evan Flohr and Jake Lowery, they were able to preserve the lone run the Spartans scored en route to a 1-0 victory. The Wildcats offense isn’t as explosive as its been in years past, but Alfonso Rivas gives MSU pitching a reason to be cautious. Rivas was a second-team All-American last year and was predicted to finish first-team this year. He is listed on every major preseason All-America team and makes the Preseason Golden Spikes Award Watch List. So far, he’s batting .333, with 10 hits, 10 RBI and a homer. Erla has been the surprise of MSU pitching thus far, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can hold down Rivas and the Arizona bats.

The schedule continues to toughen as MSU battles three very impressive Pac-12 teams. Boss Jr. will use this weekend as a measuring stick to see where they rank among some of the country’s best. He’ll also use this as a chance to scout the Golden Gophers and the Fighting Illini, which they’ll play later in the season (MSU will play the Illini in Greenville, S.C. in a week). Once they wrap up the weekend in Minneapolis, the Spartans will head to South Carolina to take on Clemson, Furman and Illinois.