GREENVILLE, S.C. — It was a pitchers’ duel early and an offensive clinic late on Friday, as the Michigan State Spartans defeated the Maryland Terrapins 6-0 on opening night at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C.
The Spartans turned to senior Sam Benschoter on the mound while the Terrapins gave the ball to their ace, redshirt sophomore Sean Burke, as both teams tried to get their season off to a good start. And while both pitchers certainly pitched very well, Benschoter was able to settle in just a little bit earlier, which turned out to be the difference.
After Benschoter pitched a quick 1-2-3 inning for the Spartans in the top of the first, the Spartans got right to work at the plate, as three of their first four hitters got on base. Then, with the bases loaded and one out, a wild pitch by Burke followed by a sacrifice fly by Spartans’ right fielder Zaid Walker gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
Benschoter continued his dominance in the early innings, scattering two hits and three Terrapin baserunners through the first four innings. On the other side, after his struggles in the first inning, Burke clearly settled in, striking out 10 Spartans in his first four innings.
Both pitchers continued to dominate the game until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Spartans’ freshman shortstop Mitch Jebb led off the Spartans’ half of the inning by lining a ball off the glove of Maryland’s Matthew Shaw and into the shallow right field corner. Jebb would end up on third with a leadoff triple and Bryce Kelley would score him on the very next pitch with a sacrifice fly of his own to make the score 3-0 in favor of the Spartans.
The Spartans were able to chase Burke out of the game after six innings. He finished allowing three earned runs on six hits and 10 strikeouts. But with no offensive production coming from the Maryland lineup, a late-inning collapse by the Terrapins’ bullpen put the game out of reach.
In the bottom of the eighth, Jebb, who reached base three times in the game and scored three runs, led off the inning by drawing a walk and then stealing second base. Then, just like the sixth inning, Bryce Kelley laid down a sacrifice bunt that led to an errant throw by the Terrapins, scoring Jebb easily from second. The Spartans’ offensive onslaught continued in the eighth as third baseman Zach Iverson singled to right and plated two more runners, giving the Spartans a 6-0 advantage going into the ninth inning.
Although the Spartans’ offense came alive late, the story of the night was Benschoter who, facing a daunting Terrapins lineup led by Golden Spikes watch list candidate Maxwell Costes, allowed no runs on only five scattered hits. He struck out ten Terrapins in his eight innings and 120 pitches of work. The effort was more than enough to lead the Spartans to a season-opening win in South Carolina.
Michigan State moves to 1-0 on the young season and will play a double-header with Maryland on Saturday before wrapping up the four-game series on Sunday.
Follow Michael Markoch on Twitter at @mcmarkoch20.