EAST LANSING, Mich. — Due to inclement weather in the forecast, a last-minute schedule change forced Michigan State (6-19, 0-5 Big Ten) into action twice against Rutgers (15-9, 4-1) on Friday afternoon. The first leg featured a battle of aces; Riley McCauley for the Spartans, and John O’Reilly for the Scarlet Knights. A couple of multi-run innings and stellar pitching by O’Reilly gave the Rutgers the 8-4 win in the opener.
Ethan Landon surrendered a four-spot in the fourth inning of game two, which powered the opposition to a doubleheader sweep.
MSU pitching ranked fourth in the Big Ten in strikeouts leading up to the Rutgers series, only trailing Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa. McCauley and Mike Mokma combined for five K’s against the Rutgers lineup.
O’Reilly, aBig Ten Preseason Honors List selection, leads the Scarlet Knights staff in innings and games started. He’d work deep into the game, bracing a couple Spartan rallies.
Zack McGuire plated the first two runs of the game for the Spartans in the second, with a two-run homer over the left field wall. Rutgers left fielder Mike Nyisztor seemed to have a beat on the ball, but it carried over the fence, while Nyisztor crashed into the 1954 NCAA World Series team picture next to the 340” marker.
Scarlet Knights were hitless until the fifth, but it was an explosive inning for them as they sent eight to the plate against McCauley. They tallied five runs on five hits, including a base clearing triple by Jawuan Harris to put Rutgers in front, 5-2.
Rutgers threatened again the sixth, getting runners on second and third with one out. Mike Mokma relieved McCauley and got Kevin Welsh to pop out, but Luke Bowerbank drove in a run on an infield single. Nyisztor flew to right for the final out. Rutgers led 6-2 after 5 ½ innings.
MSU got the Rutgers bullpen stirring in the eighth, after Justin Antoncic singled and Zach Iverson scored him on a triple to deep center. Dan Chmielewski singled and scored Iverson to bring the Spartans within two, 6-4. O’Reilly finished the inning but was pulled for Serafino Brito in the ninth.
Rutgers added two more in the ninth on a Chris Folinusz double. MSU bats went down quietly in their final chances.
MSU defense committed three errors; one credited to Iverson, Nic Lacayo and Ryan King. Three errors tied their 2018 single game record, joining two performances against Niagara.
“Occasionally with some of our younger guys, they take at-bats out to the field,” Boss Jr. said. “We’re too sloppy right now to overcome the offensive struggles.”
WP – John O’Reilly (3-1; 8 IP, 8 R, 4 H, 2 K)
LP – Riley McCauley (1-4; 5.1 IP, 6 R, 7 H, 3 K)
The Scarlet Knights wasted little time to start scoring. They immediately scored a run in the first off Landon, in part to a Folinusz center-field single that scored Jawuan Harris. The Spartans could’ve escaped unharmed before the run had scored, but second baseman Bailey Peterson misplayed a ball that extended the inning.
Bryce Kelley put the Green and White on the board in the third, with an RBI groundout scoring Antoncic, tying the game 1-1.
Rutgers quickly responded in the next half inning with four runs, highlighted by a misplayed fly ball in left field. Kelley failed to corral a ball near the warning track that allowed two runs to score. A single and groundout scored the other two and put them up 5-1.
“We threw, I thought, great,” Boss Jr. said. “With the exception of two innings. It was just kind of one of those deals where they singled us to death. We didn’t give them any from the mound, as far as that was concerned, but it was just a frustrating day.”
Folinusz drove in four runs on the afternoon, with his last coming in the seventh of game two. This bumped the lead to 6-1. MSU answered with a run in the home half, making it 6-2 – McGuire doubling to center, and Chad Roskelly singling him home. Before anything else transpired, the Scarlet Knights turned a 6-4-3 double play to halt the rally.
MSU added two runs in the eighth on relievers Kevin Blum and Collin Kiernan. Both forced in a run, walking a hitter with the bases loaded. Pinch-hitter Danny Gleaves struck out to end in the inning before they could add more. MSU pulled within 6-4 heading into the ninth.
Brito came on for his second appearance of the day and shut down the MSU offense in the ninth, closing the book on Friday’s doubleheader sweep for Rutgers.
The Spartans are now 2-7 at home and have dropped eight in a row. The Spartans’ offensive struggles continue as they’re the last-ranked Big Ten team in average runs scored. They finished 6-for-29 with runners on base throughout the afternoon.
Marty Bechina and Bailey Peterson combined for a 1-for-6 showing on the day.
“Everybody’s struggling right now,” Boss Jr. said. “Everybody wants to be the guy. Everybody’s probably pressing a little bit right now and that’s understandable when it’s not going well. When you got high-character guys, everybody tries to do it for their teammates and Michigan State. Can’t fault them for that, but at the same time our game is not ‘bigger faster stronger’ wins and ‘try hard’ isn’t always the best thing in our game.”
WP – Harry Rutkowski (4-0; 7 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 4 K)
LP – Ethan Landon (0-5; 6 IP, 5 R, 7 H, 4 K)
SV – Serafino Brito (4)
The series finale is set for 1:05 p.m. EST at McLane Stadium on Saturday, March 31. MSU will call on Mason Erla to rebound from a start against Michigan. Rutgers sends their second straight freshman in as many games, Eric Heatter.