EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State baseball outlasted both Eastern Michigan and Mother Nature Wednesday night as the Spartans beat the Eagles, 5-3, at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, with a 95-minute rain delay in the middle of the game.
The teams played three complete innings before the tarp came out and the rain continued to come down, with intermittent lightning mixed in, clearing the stadium.
“I’m proud of our guys. It’s not always easy to come back after a long delay like that, you’re kind of just sitting around,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “We had some timely hits tonight. I think we chased some balls and had some tentative swings early in the game, but as the game went on we swung a little bit better. It was a good night, anytime you win it’s a good night.”
The teams waited out the delay in MSU’s hitting building, and the coaching staffs continued their connections. Boss coached all three members of EMU’s coaching staff, who are all former MSU players, in head coach Eric Roof, assistants Jonathan Roof and A.J. Achter, while MSU pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde was head coach at EMU before returning to MSU. The Roof brothers were also assistant coaches for the Spartans.
“No, I don’t like it,” Boss said with a smile after being asked about if it was fun to coach against his former players. “I love those guys over there, Eric Roof was a senior our first year here. That senior class was the reason we won a Big Ten Championship two years later. So, Eric is a special guy as far as I’m concerned. I love him like he’s my son. Really all of those guys, A.J. and Jonathan, played a lot of good baseball for us. They were both here for two years and signed contracts after the 2010 season. So, we’re really close with those guys, Eric and Jonathan worked here as well so I’m happy for their opportunity. I don’t like competing against them; I’d do anything for them. We’re pulling for them as they move forward.”
MSU scored two in the first frame and after the delay, two in the fifth, for a 4-0 lead, before EMU plated three runs in the top of the seventh to close the gap. However, the Spartans added an insurance run after the seventh-inning stretch for the final 5-3 win.
“We just had to focus up,” sophomore catcher Adam Proctor said, who had the go-ahead RBI in the seventh. “We had a long time where we were just sitting around and losing the mentality, but we came out with the same fire we had at the start of the game. I think that helped us keep the lead and win it.”
Sophomore southpaw Jesse Heikkinen got the win, pitching 4.0 innings of relief, also around the delay, chalking up four strikeouts. Heikkinen came on in the third inning to relieve junior right-hander Caleb Sleeman who started and pitched the first two innings to get some more work after a short outing last Sunday at Rutgers. After the delay, Heikkinen pitched three more innings. Senior reliever Evan Flohr threw 2.0 IP of no-hit ball, while junior reliever Indigo Diaz pitching a scoreless ninth to earn his fourth save of the season.
Senior infielder Royce Ando and freshman outfielder Zaid Walker both collected two RBI apiece, while Proctor had one RBI.
Sophomore infielder Zach Iverson was 2-for-4 with a run scored. Proctor was 1-for-2 with two walks, Ando was 1-for-3 with a walk, senior infielder Marty Bechina was 1-for-3 with two runs scored and Walker was 1-for-4. Junior infielder Andrew Morrow and freshman outfielder Casey Mayes also each had a hit.
MSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the home half of the first, after Walker laced a two-run, two-out, bases loaded double down the right field foul line and up the berm in the corner, plating Bechina and Ando. Bechina started the two-out rally with a single and Ando followed with a walk, as did sophomore catcher Adam Proctor, bringing Walker to the plate for his RBI.
“We haven’t scored first in many games, so to get two in the first was good. We kind of gave Caleb an opportunity to take a deep breath and get ahead in the count and throw strikes early, so it was good,” Boss said about staking Sleeman to an early lead.
EMU tried to counter in the top of the second, loading the bases off Sleeman, but the Spartan hurler induced a fly out that Walker made a nice running grab right at the right field line and bottom of the berm where his double went, to end the frame and leave the bases full of Eagles.
As the rain increased, the teams played on, finishing the third inning, with EMU first baseman John Rensel Jr. making catch on out foul out looking up into some very heavy raindrops, before the game was delayed for nearly 90 minutes, resuming at exactly 9 p.m.
Heikkinen worked around a leadoff single and a one-out walk, chalking up back-to-back strikeouts to get out of the inning.
EMU got within a run in the top of the seventh, stringing together two hits and taking advantage of a walk and MSU error to close to 4-3, before Bechina made a nice scoop and throw, nabbing the Eagles’ Nick Jones by a hair to end the inning. Flohr came on with the bases loaded and no outs, reliever sophomore Sam Benschoter, and Flohr rang up a strikeout and groundout before the groundout to Bechina to get out of the jam before the Eagles could tie it up.
After stretching and singing in the middle of the seventh, Bechina started the rally by getting hit by a pitch and later stole second. Proctor later blooped a single to right to plate Bechina for the final 5-3 score.
Flohr retired the Eagles in 1-2-3 order in the eighth with three groundouts. Diaz came on in the ninth and fielded his position with a comebacker for the first out, then got a pop up and fly out to Walker in right to end the game and spark the Spartan celebration.
MSU continues its nine-game homestand by returning to Big Ten Conference play this weekend, hosting Indiana, Friday-Sunday, April 19-21. Friday’s series opener between the Spartans and Hoosiers is slated for a 6:35 p.m. first pitch, followed by Saturday’s 4:05 p.m. start time. Sunday’s series finale is slated for 1:05 p.m.
Fans can also follow Spartan baseball action through “Live Stats,” “Listen Live” and “Watch Live” links found at MSUSpartans.com. The games will be video streamed on BTN2Go, and will also be carried on the Spartan Sports Network live audio stream. The broadcast will be available exclusively at SpartanSportsNetwork.com and on the network’s 24/7 app for mobile devices (available on iTunes and Google Play). Broadcast veteran Scott Moore calls the action alongside former MSU manager/bullpen catcher David Greenberg in select games.
Any schedule updates will be announced on www.MSUSpartans.com and on twitter @statebaseball.
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