EAST LANSING — While most of the attention around MSU’s campus has been geared towards the NCAA tournament, Michigan State (5-10) hosted a series at Kobs Field for the first time since last May. A chilly 33 degrees at game time didn’t play a factor for the Spartan offense, as MSU downed the Niagara Purple Eagles (2-9) 10-1.
The Spartan bats haven’t been overpowering thus far this season, so it’s fitting that they scored their first two runs without a ball leaving the infield. A couple of underclassmen started the rally, with Zach Iverson walking and Ryan King’s infield hit. Adam Proctor then walked to load the bases.
A hit-by-pitch to Danny Gleaves scored Iverson to give the Spartans the first run of the game. The lineup turned back over to leadoff hitter Bryce Kelley, who grounded to Peter Battaglia at first base. The ball kicked off the glove of Battaglia, allowing Kelley to reach and King to score. Dan Chmielewski then cleared the bases with a double on a liner just out of the reach of the center fielder. The Spartans led after the second inning two-out explosion, 5-0.
“Yeah, those guys just keep getting better and better I think every day,” Spartan manager Jake Boss Jr. said of Iverson and King. “Zach has really calmed himself down at the plate, I think he’s starting to settle into a little bit … very happy with where he’s at. Ryan King really gives us a spark right out of the gates. He came in, and he plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and that shows … both those young guys have really kind of taken their opportunities and run with it. It’s been good for our ball club obviously, it kind of made us go.”
Spartan ace Riley McCauley didn’t face much trouble with the inefficient Purple Eagles lineup, other than a streak of allowing at least one base runner in five consecutive innings. Niagara came into the contest hitting .250, skewed by a surging Greg Cullen, who’s batting .488. McCauley pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third, getting Cullen to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
The home offense went back to work in the bottom half of the third, plating a run on a King ground-out. He scored Royce Ando, who doubled to right field to start the frame.
McCauley’s start significantly differed from his last against Illinois on March 9. He gave up five runs on five hits to the Fighting Illini and made it only 4 2/3 innings. This time around, he surrendered four hits and held the Purple Eagles scoreless through seven innings.
“I changed it up,” McCauley said of the difference between the start against Illinois versus today. “I go all stretch now, like I did last year, and I think it just helps me throw more strikes and be more consistent in the zone and not walk as many guys.”
Any possible Purple Eagles rally ended in an Ando double play, as he turned two inning-ending DP’s. Niagara runners found themselves off the base on a lineout time and time again, which cost them on multiple occasions.
The Spartans added some insurance in the later stages of the game, with one in the seventh and three in the eighth. Ando, Iverson and King, three of the top four team leaders in on-base percentage, contributed to score half of the first six runs.
Caleb Sleeman relieved McCauley and gave up the only run that MSU pitching allowed. He pitched the remaining two innings and closed out the ball game.
Chmielewski finished 2-for-5 and drove in four. Each MSU hitter, except Justin Antoncic, had at least one hit.
Final line: WP – McCauley (7 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 K) LP – LP = Tyler Howard 4 IP, 6 R, 5 H, 2 K)
The Spartans will send Ethan Landon to the mound in game two; the Purple Eagles will give Cody Eckerson the nod. First pitch from Kobs Field is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET on Friday.