Spartans Sweep Rutgers in Doubleheader to Begin Big Ten Play

EAST LANSING – The Michigan State baseball team opened Big Ten play by sweeping Rutgers in a doubleheader on Saturday at McLane Stadium. The Spartans took game one, 5-3, and then won game two, 5-4, to up their record to 17-3.

Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning of game one, the Spartans took the lead on an RBI single by Justin Hovis and added a run in each of the next two innings to secure a 5-2 victory. Starting pitcher Cam Vieaux tossed 6.2 innings and Dakota Mekkes finished the job as he struck out five to earn his first save.

In game two MSU came back from a 3-2 deficit by scoring two runs in the fifth inning and hung on for a 5-4 victory. Joe Mockbee got his fifth save of the season in pitching the final 2.1 innings.

“I’m proud of our guys for really competing for 18 innings. It’s a long day and it can get tough,” said MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. “We knew we were going to get a great effort out of Rutgers and our guys answered the bell when they needed to today. It’s good to get two W’s.”

Rutgers (8-13, 0-2) threatened first in game one, loading the bases in the top of the third and pushing across two runs in the inning on a sacrifice fly by Chris Suseck and RBI single to shallow right field by Jawuan Harris.

Rutgers starting pitcher Howie Brey limited the Spartans to one hit through 3.2 innings until a two-out single by Taylor Grace in the bottom of the fourth sparked the offense. Jordan Zimmerman followed with a two-run blast over the wall in left field and into the pine trees to knot the game, 2-2.

The Spartans had a prime opportunity to take their first lead when they loaded the basses in the bottom of the fifth, but Brey got Dan Durkin to fly out to the warning track in right field to escape the inning with the game still tied.

Michigan State eventually grabbed the lead in following inning, manufacturing a leadoff single by Grace into the go-ahead run. Grace worked his way around the horn on a wild pitch and groundout. With Grace on third and two outs, Hovis drilled the first pitch he saw into center field to give MSU a 3-2 lead.

Grace helped MSU extend its lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh with his third hit of the day. With two outs, Grace singled into right field bringing Royce Ando around to score from second base.

MSU made it solo runs in three straight innings when a sacrifice bunt by Hovis allowed Kory Young to score from third in the eighth, making it 5-2.

Vieaux retired two of the first three hitters in the top of the seventh before giving way to Mekkes for the final out of the inning.

Mekkes faced one over the minimum the rest of the way, retiring five Scarlet Knights via strikeout to earn his first save of the year.

Vieaux improved to 4-1 as he finished the day with five strikeouts and three walks.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning of game two, the Spartans sent eight batters to the plate. Durkin plated the first run with a single to right field and three straight walks by Rutgers starter Kyle Driscoll – the third to Hovis – gave MSU the lead, 2-1.

With the bases loaded, Driscoll was able to halt the Spartan momentum with consecutive strikeouts to end the inning.

After the Spartans loaded the bases again in the bottom of the second with two hits and a walk, but failed to capitalize and came away empty, Rutgers took advantage of two hits and two MSU errors in the top of the third to take a 3-2 lead.

MSU fought back in the bottom of the fifth, scoring a pair of runs to reclaim the lead, 4-3. Matt Byars drove in the first run with a chopping single through the left side and the next batter, Ando, followed with an RBI single into right field.

Rutgers threatened in the bottom of the seventh as a pair of singles off MSU reliever Jake Lowery put the Scarlet Knights in position to tie the game. But a terrific catch by Grace on a line drive to deep left field and then a groundout induced by Mockbee got MSU out of the inning unscathed.

A two-out RBI single by Durkin gave MSU a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh and the run proved to be a difference-maker as Rutgers’ Harris led off the top of the eighth with a solo shot to make it a one-run game. An error and single gave the Scarlet Knights a chance to again tie or retake the lead, but Mockbee got a strike out and foul out down the left field line to cease any further damage and keep the game 5-4 in favor of MSU.

Mockbee sealed the win in the ninth by striking out the side.

MSU’s game two starter Ethan Landon yielded three runs (one earned) run off six hits in improving to 2-1.

“You want to get off on the right foot and give yourself a chance to win the series,” said Boss. “Now we’ve put ourselves in a good position heading into tomorrow.”

The Spartans and Scarlet Knights will close out the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.