ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. â€“ The Michigan State baseball team held off Seton Hall, 5-4, Saturday at Progress Energy Park in the second game for the Spartans at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. MSU has won its first two games at the event and will look to go a perfect 3-0 when it faces Cincinnati on Sunday in Clearwater.
Senior center fielder Brandon Eckerle led MSU at the plate, going 4-for-4, including the game-winning RBI in the sixth.
Making his collegiate debut, freshman David Garner threw four scoreless innings in relief to earn the victory for Michigan State. Garner struck out three and didnâ€™t allow a hit from the sixth inning on as MSU rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to claim the 5-4 win.
â€œDavid showed us a lot today, especially for his first outing,â€ said Spartan head coach Jake Boss. â€œHeâ€™s a very talented player. He had a little nerves early, walking his first batter, but he kept his composure and really settled in.â€
Seton Hall (0-2) plated three runs right off the bat in the top of the first, but it could have been even worse without a diving catch by Eckerle that got the Spartans out of the inning. Eckerle tracked down a ball in the right-center gap with a full extension grab.
â€œBrandon made one of the most outstanding catches Iâ€™ve seen in a long time,â€ Boss said. â€œThat catch was unbelievable and really stopped the bleeding in the first.â€
The Spartans bounced right back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Jeff Holm drove in Eckerle and Ryan Jones with a triple to right field, followed by an RBI single from Tony Wieber.
â€œLike all sports, baseball is a game of momentum, and we were fortunate to jump back in and tie the game in the first,â€ said Boss.
Spartan starter Tony Bucciferro shut down the Pirates in the second, but SHU reclaimed the lead with a run in the third to make it 4-3.
MSU tied it again in the bottom of the fourth. Shortstop Justin Scanlon hit a one-out double down the right-field line, advanced to third on an Eckerle single, and scored on a Torsten Boss groundout.
Garner relieved Bucciferro in the sixth, and after walking his first batter, he found a groove as he struck out two in the inning.
The Spartans took their first lead of the game and held it for good in the bottom half of the sixth. Jordan Keur led off and reached first on a fielding error by the pitcher, then went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Andy Johnson. A Scanlon flyout to right moved along Keur to third. That brought up Eckerle, who with two outs, dropped down a bunt that scored Keur for what would prove to be the game-winning run.
â€œWe had some guys really execute and manufacture a run there in the sixth, which I think is key to be able to do, especially early in the year,â€ Boss said. â€œBrandon really used the whole field and took what was given to him today.â€
The Pirates threatened one final time in the ninth. Garner walked the leadoff hitter, Ryan Sullivan, who was then bunted over to second before advancing to third on a groundout. Garner got out of the jam with a flyout to end the game.
Â â€œWe gave David an opportunity to see if he could close it out (in the ninth),â€ said Boss. â€œHeâ€™s a competitor, and we wanted to see what he was made of early on. He finished the job, and that was fun to watch for a freshman to be able to do that.â€
Michigan State takes on Cincinnati (1-1) Sunday in the third and final game of the Big East/Big Ten Challenge for both teams. The Spartans and Bearcats will meet at 1 p.m. in Clearwaterâ€™s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium.