Spartans drop Big Ten opener in Ann Arbor

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan State opened Big Ten play in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines on Friday. U-M won two midweek games; one against Oakland and the other against Western Michigan. The Spartans faced Central Michigan, losing to the Chips 3-1. The Wolverines never trailed in Friday’s contest, extending their five-game win streak with a 12-3 victory.

Michigan starter Tommy Henry was unhittable in the early stages of the game. In the first, he walked Bryce Kelley, then struck out the side. He retired six hitters in a row after the Kelley walk.

Spartans righty Riley McCauley ran into trouble as soon as he took the mound. After getting leadoff hitter Ako Thomas to fly out, Christian Bullock singled and stole second. Justin Engelmann sent a McCauley pitch over the brick monster in left field for his second homer on the season, scoring Bullock and giving the Wolverines an early 2-0 lead.

The Wolverines scored again in the second, when Thomas slugged a McCauley offering off the brick wall in left for a double, scoring Brock Keener and pushing the lead to 3-0.

MSU inflicted slight damage to Henry in the third, with a Chad Roskelly double and Kory Young walk. Kelley hit into a fielder’s choice to put runners on first and third with one out, but Dan Chmielewski and Justin Antoncic couldn’t push a run across.

McCauley struggled keeping runners off for the better portion of the game, allowing 11 hitters to reach. The Wolverines had at least one runner on, each inning, spanning from the first through the fifth. He prevented a runner to reach in the sixth – his final frame.

“It’s a different mindset from closing to starting, he is still one of our best arms, so we need him to pitch,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said of McCauley. “But it’s a different mind-set. He’s got to command three pitches, I think, a little bit better. I think he could admit that. It’s not for a lack of trying, he’s the best competitor that we have.”

U-M tallied a run in three straight innings, upping their lead to 6-0 by the fifth. Henry dominated the MSU bats his entire outing and limited traffic on the bases. He allowed two hits and three walks but struck out six Spartans over 101 pitches and six innings.

“I think he made pitches when he needed to make pitches, I don’t think we capitalized on some opportunities,” Boss Jr. said. “We lost some momentum – we can never gain momentum. Give him credit, I mean, he made some pitches when he needed to.”

Jack Weisenburger relieved Henry and gave MSU their first rally. He walked Nic Lacayo and Bechina, then gave up center field single to Roskelly. Young lined to Thomas at second base, who doubled off Roskelly at first for an inning-ending double play. The Spartans couldn’t score, despite loading the bases with one out.

MSU broke their 12-inning scoring drought – dating back to Wednesday – in the top of the eighth. Three singles in the inning scored three runs for the Spartans, who cut the deficit to 6-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth.

The Wolverines quickly responded in their share of the eighth. They posted a run against reliever Evan Flohr, then scored five off Sam Benschoter. Engelmann hit his second round-tripper of the game and tallied five RBI.

After the Engelmann homer, Benschoter hit Nelson with a pitch, who stared towards the mound the whole trip to first. In the top of the ninth, Roskelly was hit with the third pitch of the at-bat. No further dramatics ensued.

MSU didn’t score in the ninth, leading to their third straight loss.

The Spartans are now 1-5 when McCauley gets the nod.

“No, he’s held his velocity,” Boss Jr. said about whether he’s worried about possible fatigue that McCauley might be experiencing. “He’s held his velocity deep into games. He’s thrown I think 100 or over 100 pitches in the last couple outings and held his velocity very well, so not at all. And he works. He’s prepared, he’s put in the work to get himself into shape to go deep into the ball game.”

The series moves to McLane Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday. The Spartans send Ethan Landon (0-3, 3.16 ERA) to the hill against Michigan’s Ben Dragini (1-0, 1.80 ERA). First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. EST.

Final Line:

WP – Tommy Henry (3-0) (6 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 6 K)

LP – Riley McCauley (1-3) (6 IP, 6 R, 6 H, 4 K)