Abarca: How MSU squandered a perfectly-scheduled Niagara series

Before ending spring break with a win against Illinois, Michigan State baseball had a catastrophic fifth inning against Clemson, which decided the game. A day after, the Spartans lost to Illinois and Furman, 15-4 and 3-2, respectively. They would pack their bags and head from South Carolina back to East Lansing sporting a 4-10 record to open a home series against Niagara to start a month’s worth of baseball in the state of Michigan.

The four-game set against the Purple Eagles couldn’t have come at a better time for head coach Jake Boss Jr. and his team. A few tough losses to end the break would have anyone hoping for a home-field advantage, with the benefit of sleeping in your own bed and jumping back into a routine. That’s exactly where the Spartans stand right now. They get the luxury of being back in East Lansing, along with a lengthy slate of baseball on or around campus.

A struggling Purple Eagles team, back at home, fresh rotation with starters on normal days rest – what could go wrong? Here’s how it happened.

It looked like the Spartans were well on their way to reaching Boss Jr.’s achievement before weekend’s end. In the opener, MSU slugged 10 runs – in 33 degrees, no less – in a rout of the Purple Eagles. The next afternoon, the Spartans were up a run in the ninth. Shortstop Ryan King sailed a throw over first base to allow the tying run to reach. That runner came around to score, as well as the go-ahead run. Niagara escaped with a 3-2 win, and we saw an extremely unhappy head coach.

“We had two errors in the ninth, it should’ve been three.” Boss Jr. said after Friday’s game. “We’ve got to play cleaner baseball.”

Saturday, Mason Erla continued dazzled in his outing and the Spartans scored five, winning 5-1. The finale, a chance to take three of four and win Boss Jr.’s 300th game as MSU head coach came on Sunday. The two teams combined for six errors and 20 runs. The 3 1/2-hour game seemed like it would never end. Niagara tallied at least one run in six consecutive innings and scored multiple runs in four innings. A total of nine relievers were used in the game. This was a game – actually, a series, you want to easily forget if you’re the Spartans.

For a team that under performed in the road non-conference portion of their schedule, they needed to finish the weekend with more than a split. Niagara entered the series at 2-8. A team that was trying to buy a win coming into East Lansing from New York, driving through Canada – they needed to smell the blood and pounce. Yes, I added the Canada bus ride for dramatic effect. The point is, the Spartans are trying to find themselves, and quickly turn a season around that hasn’t started to their liking – these games are vital.

Clear frustration is setting into this ball club. Mitchell Tyranski shook his head the whole walk to the dugout on Friday, after being removed once the costly error occurred. After giving up the ninth-inning lead and losing the game, Boss Jr. and the coach staff were the only ones to shake the opponent’s hands at the end of the game. After each game, Boss Jr. usually briefs the team in left field. He didn’t do that either. He did some scolding during the game when he railed into Justin Antoncic after looking at a called third strike. On Sunday, Royce Ando got caught stealing second for the first out, down three runs in the eighth. Boss Jr. didn’t take his eyes off Ando, as his second baseman limped off the field with a leg injury.

Frustration is expected, as they let a bad Purple Eagles team win two games. What might be most frustrating detail is take away a few errors and mental mistakes, and MSU sweeps the four games.

They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves against an in-state rival, Central Michigan. The Chippewas are 4-15-1 and are coming into East Lansing losing 13 of their last 16. Again, the Spartans face another vulnerable opponent, but whether they can limit errors and not play down to their opponent is yet to be seen. There have been many instances where MSU has beaten themselves. They’ll have a midweek game to fine-tune everything before they head into conference play.

MSU (6-12) vs. Central Michigan (4-15-1)

Probable Starters:

MSU – RHP Andrew Gonzalez (0-0; 22.50 ERA)

CMU – RHP Cameron Brown (1-1; 6.14 ERA)