EAST LANSING, Mich . – Under the lights on a beautiful Wednesday night, Michigan State followed up their impressive ten-run victory over Oakland on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory over the Toledo Rockets. It was overall a hard-fought and competitive game, but control issues for the Toledo pitching staff and a dominant performance by the Michigan State bullpen ended up being the difference.
Junior Caleb Sleeman got the start for the Spartans, his fifth start of the season. After getting the first hitter Sleeman saw in the game to strike out looking, he ran into some trouble early. Trace Hatfield singled and later scored on a John Servello two-out double deep in the gap to right center.
BOX SCORE: MSU 4, Toledo 2
Sleeman escaped the first inning without any further damage and pitched a nearly perfect second inning. Despite appearing to settle into the game, Michigan State elected to go the bullpen early, bringing in sophomore Jesse Heikkinen to start the top of third. That decision worked out excellently for the Spartans as Heikkinen gave his team 4 and 2/3 innings of work only giving up one earned run and striking out three.
“Proud of Jesse, he did a heck of a job tonight when we needed him to.” Michigan State head coach Jake Boss Jr. said proudly of his sophomore pitcher.
With Heikkinen keeping the Toledo lineup in check, it was up to the Spartan offense to step up and generate some runs. Bryce Davis, the starting pitcher for Toledo, kept the opposing bats quiet for the first three innings of the game. Despite unsuccessfully putting many runners on base, the Michigan State lineup consistently worked deep into counts and ran up Davis’s pitch count unusually high for how well he was pitching. Doing this paid dividends for the Spartans later in the game.
In the bottom of the fourth, Casey Mayes and Zaid Walker got things going with back-to-back singles and Zach Iverson followed with a walk. Dan Chmielewski broke the deadlock for the Spartans with a deep sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Mayes. Reese Trahey drew a walk to reload the bases which ended the day for Davis. Replacing Davis was Kyle Bischoff, who almost immediately threw a wild pitch, scoring Walker.
Michigan State got it going once again in the bottom of the fifth. Marty Bechina drew another walk (one of eleven on the day) and quickly advanced to third following a stolen base and wild pitch. Royce Ando was then hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. Ando eventually stole second, and then advanced to third when ball four to Adam Proctor got past the catcher, also scoring Bechina.
With Bischoff unable to find the strike zone, Toledo brought in Austin Calopietro to work out of the jam. Unfortunately for Toledo, Calopietro threw one last wild pitch to score a run for the Spartans, the third wild pitch in the game to do so. Calopietro eventually settled down and was able to roll a double play and strike out Iverson to end the inning.
A Brad Boss RBI double in the top of the sixth cut the Michigan State lead to 4-2. Toledo from this point forward however, could not plate any more runs despite threatening in the seventh and ninth innings.
Heikkinen (2-2) got the win for the Spartans, Bryce Davis (0-2) got the loss and Indigo Diaz picked up his fifth save in two innings. Despite getting off to a slow start, the Spartans built off their long at-bats early in the game to eventually get to Davis. Senior Marty Bechina acknowledged the team’s slow start but also their ability to bounce back.
“[We] came out slow today which happens during midweeks,” Bechina said….”Today, we took the lead and never looked back from it.”
Michigan State will return to the field Friday night at home to face Big Ten opponent Northwestern to open a three game series and close out a nine-game home stretch. Diaz summed up the Spartans’ performance perfectly.
“We were able to do enough to win, which is all that matters.”