CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – The Michigan State baseball team fell short in its quest for a Big Ten Tournament bid as Illinois rallied from a 7-0 deficit to top the Spartans, 8-7, in the regular-season finale Sunday afternoon at Illinois Field. Coupled with Ohio State’s victory over Penn State, 3-2, the Spartans will be left out of the 2007 Big Ten Tournament held in Ann Arbor next week. Michigan State (25-26 overall) finished the Big Ten season 15-16, just shy of fifth-place Illinois (16-14) and sixth-place Ohio State (15-15).
Steve Gerstenberger closed the season on a 12-game hitting streak, going 3-for-5 with an RBI on Sunday. Gerstenberger finished the 2007 campaign with a team-high .368 batting average and 77 hits, tied for eighth most in an MSU single-season. Brandon Doherty went 3-for-5 with a solo homer, and Sean Walker hit his team-leading seventh homer and 26th of his career. Walker closes out his Spartan career tied for seventh in the school-record books in homers and third in doubles with 43.
Michigan State rushed out to a 7-0 lead after scoring runs in each of the first five innings. Kyle Day, who had nine RBI in the four-game series, hit a solo homer in the first, and Eric Roof delivered an RBI single in the second to score E.J. Daws. The Spartans went up 3-0 after Doherty hit his second homer of the series, this time down the left-field line, in the third.
MSU added two runs in the fourth on back-to-back RBI singles off the bats of Dennis Jones and Gerstenberger. Jones scored all the way from first on Gerstenberger’s single to center, putting Michigan State up 5-0.
With two outs and no one on base in the fifth, Walker crushed a towering solo blast to deep left-center, possibly the farthest of his four home runs on the weekend. The Spartans took advantage of an Illini error and also scored an unearned run in the inning.
The Illini, needing a win themselves to earn a berth to the Big Ten Tournament, came storming back from the seven-run deficit with a three-run homer by Nick Stockwell in the bottom of the fifth. Illinois was at it again in the sixth as Lars Davis, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, hit a solo homer to right field. Another single and a walk by the Illini knocked MSU starter Ryan MacFarlane out of the game. The junior, making his first career Big Ten start, pitched four scoreless innings before giving up five earned runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Shawn Roof collected a single off Spartan reliever A.J.Dunn later in the inning to cut the lead to 7-5.
With MSU clinging to a two-run lead, Illinois scored three in the bottom of the seventh to go ahead, 8-7. Kyle Hudson reached first on a one-out single, and then advanced all the way to third on an errant pickoff throw to first base. Hudson went on to score courtesy of a Ryan Snowden sacrifice fly, making it a one-run game. With two outs and the bases clear, Brandon Wikoff hit a triple to right field, putting Davis in the box against reliever Tony Clausen. On a 1-0 pitch, Davis blasted his second homer of the game and 13th of the season, this time putting the ball just over the fence in right field.
The Spartans threatened with runners on first and third and no outs in the top of the eighth, but Illini reliever Jake Toohey started a 1-6-3 double play to quickly give Illinois two outs in the inning. Since the ball was hit right to Toohey at the mound, Gerstenberger had to hold at third base, and was left stranded after a flyout ended the inning.
Toohey walked Walker to lead off the ninth, but was the recipient of another double play to get out of a jam, this time a 4-6-3 turn. He collected a strikeout to end the game. Toohey pitched a season-high 4.1 innings and did not allow a run in improving his record to 2-1. Clausen (1-1) took the loss for MSU.
Michigan State finishes the 2007 season with a 25-26 overall record. The Spartans placed seventh in the Big Ten Conference with a 15-16 league mark.