EAST LANSING, Mich. — It was the last game at home for Michigan State baseball in 2018 – but not the last game of their season, not yet.
The Spartans earned the eighth seed in the Big Ten tournament with a 8-3 win over Ohio State (34-20, 14-10 Big Ten) to win their final series of the regular season. With the win, MSU (20-30 overall) moved to 11-12 in the Big Ten, enough to squeeze past Maryland and head to Omaha next week.
“I’m proud of our guys,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said postgame. “We didn’t want to leave it up to anybody else, and we got it done.”
Mike Mokma made his seventh start of the year, and the 6-foot-7 sophomore made the most of it with an excellent performance, his best of the year.
“He was lights-out today,” Boss Jr. said. “We had to win today, and now we get to compete for another week with these guys. They’re a good group, and we’re not done yet.”
MSU honored its eight seniors pregame with a nice touch, having all eight fathers of MSU players throw out a ceremonial first pitch.
The Spartans wasted no time at the plate, making plenty of hard contact off of OSU starter Adam Niemeyer. A leadoff single and steal from center fielder Danny Gleaves put an early runner in scoring position, and Justin Antoncic’s double to left field scored Gleaves easily.
In the second, a pair of walks from Niemeyer plus a sharp Kory Young single loaded the bases with one out. With Gleaves at bat, a wild pitch scored Zack McGuire to make it 2-0. Gleaves then walked before Bryce Kelley singled to the right side to score Zach Iverson. Antoncic’s sacrifice fly plated another run, and when the dust settled MSU was up 4-0 after two innings of play.
Niemeyer lasted just two innings, allowing four hits, four runs and walking three. His loss moves the fifth-year senior to 3-3 on the year.
A two-out single from second baseman Kobie Foppe scored Ohio State’s first run of the day in the top of the third as Mokma began to run into trouble.
To start the third, right fielder Marty Bechina singled to right-center field. The senior McGuire wasn’t about to leave McLane Stadium without one last display of power, as his home run to left was his sixth of the year, all two-run shots. The blast made it 6-1, which was enough to work with for the sophomore Mokma.
“It’s good to get a win, good to get to the Big Ten tournament,” McGuire said. “Being able to hit a home run, that was cool. Definitely one of those things in the back of your head going into it, but to actually do it was pretty cool.”
Ohio State put in some solid swings against the reliever-turned-starter in the fourth, as left fielder Tyler Cowles doubled to start the inning. After a walk and fielder’s choice moved the runners to second and third, Mokma got shortstop Noah West to fly to center to get out of trouble.
Mokma allowed a double in the fifth and worked a clean sixth and seventh, ending his day with a career-high seven innings to move to 2-4 in 2018. The right-hander allowed just one earned run on six hits, striking out four and walking one.
Senior Jake Lowery worked a clean eighth, and while the Ohio State bullpen kept Spartan bats in check for the middle portion of the game, Boss Jr. was happy with his own pitching staff.
“In a perfect world, we would have loved to let Jake finish the game,” Boss Jr. said. “Fortunately, we were able to do that.”
A steal from Kelley in the seventh tied another MSU stolen base record, as the Spartans’ 98th steal of the year tied 2005’s team total.
The best moment of the day might have come in the bottom of the eighth, as Young put a two-out pitch into the gap in right-center field to score Adam Proctor. Young ended up at third, the first triple of his Spartan career. He scored on a wild pitch, and the Spartans added two in the eighth.
Lowery ended the game in a non-save situation, and Zach Iverson made the first indecisive play of his solid weekend of defense at third, throwing a one-out ground ball in the dirt to allow Cowles to score. One base hit from first baseman Bo Coolen later, and catcher Jacob Barnwell trotted home from third to make it 8-3 in favor of MSU.
Lowery settled down to strike out West and force a groundout from Dominic Canzone, sending MSU to the Big Ten tournament after missing out in 2017.
Michigan State, as the No. 8 seed, will face off with Minnesota, who the Spartans played a weekend ago. In that series, the Spartans won the opener before losing the next two. First pitch from Omaha on Wednesday will start at a time to be determined.