Michigan State starts weekend series with narrow 7-6 win over Minnesota


McLane Baseball Stadium/ Photo Credit: Zach Surdenik/ WDBM

Liam Jackson, Baseball Beat Reporter

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Michigan State opened its weekend series against Minnesota with a win in a back-and-forth battle. Both teams fought back from deficits late in the game and manufactured runs, but in the end, MSU was able to survive and win an important series opener.

Coming into this series, the Spartans record was 7-8, good for seventh in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers have yet to find a rhythm on the season and came into Friday’s game with the worst record in the conference at 3-12.

MSU was able to jump on Minnesota starting pitcher Sam Ireland early, as freshman Brock Vradenburg doubled and drove in fellow freshman Jack Frank to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning.

Mason Erla, the ace of the MSU pitching staff, was cruising through the first three innings of the contest. However, in the fourth, the Gophers started to time him up. 

MSU pitcher Mason Erla delivers a pitch during a game/Photo Credit: Jeremy Fleming/ MSU Athletic Communications

Minnesota second baseman Zack Raabe give the Spartans fits throughout the entire game, and it was no different in the bottom of the fourth. He led off the inning with a single and was later driven in by a Chase Stanke double to right field. When it was all said and done in the bottom of the fourth, Minnesota led 4-1. 

Erla was not quite off the hook yet. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Gophers tacked on another run after a throwing error by Spartan shortstop Mitch Jebb allowed Raabe to score. Erla would finish the fifth inning, but that would be the end of his night. He gave up five runs, three of them earned, six hits, struck out seven and threw 97 pitches.

In the top of the sixth inning, it was MSU’s turn to score some runs. After Joe Stewart walked, and a Zach Iverson single set up a first and third situation, a wild pitch from Ireland got past Stanke, and Stewart scored standing up. Jebb then came up with two on and got all of an Ireland fastball that resulted in a two RBI double off of the base of the wall. Second baseman Trent Farquhar added a double of his own to plate Jebb, and after the top half of the sixth, the game was tied at five.

Minnesota was in some more trouble in the top of the seventh inning, as MSU loaded the bases with only one out. Gopher reliever Josh Culliver was able to work out of the jam by striking out Vradenberg looking and was greeted by his teammates who were pouring out of the dugout. 

Momentum seemed to have flipped once again, and Minnesota capitalized on this, as it would regain the lead in the bottom of the seventh.

Crucial mistakes made by Minnesota were a theme all game, and the biggest may have come in the top of the eighth inning. Farquhar reached first on a walk to lead off the inning. Minnesota pitcher Danny Kapala then tried to pick him off with a quick lefty move. Farquhar slid back into first with a headfirst slide, and the ball got by Ronald Sweeny at first base. Farquhar took off and was able to reach third base easily as the ball rolled all the way to the right field corner. Bryce Kelley immediately was able to get under a pitch and drive Farquhar home with a sacrifice fly, and the game was tied once again.

MSU has played small ball the entire season, and after a game of shots in the gaps for extra base hits, small ball was once again the reason MSU was able to pick up a win. Spartan right fielder Zaid Walker led off the ninth with a walk. He then forced the issue and stole both second and third base. Freshman Jack Frank was at the plate and with Walker on third, hit a weak grounder to first that scored the go-ahead run.

Minnesota went down in order in the bottom of the ninth and MSU was victorious. These two teams will face off again on Saturday at 2 p.m.