HOUSTON, Texas - Michigan State baseball took its next step toward becoming a national player as the Spartans defeated No. 6 Rice, 9-3, Friday night in the Rice Invitational at Reckling Park in Houston. Sophomore outfielder Chris Roberts and senior Justin Potes each hit a home run and senior Chris Cullen gave a masterful pitching performance in the win. Cullen (2-0) got the win with a sparkling seven-inning effort. He allowed two earned runs on five hits and struck out four. Michigan State is now 5-6 on the season.
After allowing a home run to Jared Gayhart on his first pitch of the night, Cullen shut down the Owls to the tune of one run on four hits the next six innings. He got into trouble in the eighth, when Rice scored a run and loaded the bases with no outs. Freshman Kurt Wunderlich came on and slammed the door on the Owls' rally. After allowing two hits, he got the next three batters in order to get out of the inning. Senior Nolan Moody worked a scoreless ninth to close out the night.
"This is a special win agianst for our program, especially because we did it against a hall of fame coach in Wayne Graham. We have the utmost respect for the Rice program," head coach David Grewe said. I am really proud of our pitchers and the way we swung the bat. Now we need to build off this win to keep getting better. We can't rest on our laurels. It was a tremendous team win."
The decisive inning for the Spartans came in the top of the fifth, when MSU struck for four runs. Already leading 3-2, junior Kyle Day drew a one-out walk and then scored on a two-run homer to right by Roberts. Sophomore Eli Boike and freshman Jonathan Roof followed Roberts' blast with consecutive singles, setting the table for freshman Tyler Newsome to smack a two-run double to left. The big inning gave the Spartans a 7-2 lead and breathing room to challenge Rice's hitters.
Potes went 2-for-5 with two RBI. He homered in the top of the third to give MSU a 3-2 lead, and added an RBI double in the ninth to make it an 8-3 contest. Gerstenberger, Doherty, Roberts and Roof each had two hits and combined to score five runs.
The win is even more impressive considering it came over 2008 Preseason C-USA Pitcher of the Year Ryan Berry, who entered the game with a 1.32 ERA. The Spartans jumped on Berry shortly after the national anthem, scoring two runs in the top of the first. Seniors Steve Gerstenberger and Brandon Doherty started the game with back-to-back singles and Day walked to load the bases. After Rice turned a 4-6-3 double play that allowed Gerstenberger to score, Roberts hit a triple to left that gave MSU a 2-0 lead.
Rice would quiet the early momentum in just one pitch, as Owl leadoff man Jared Gayhart hit a home run to make it 2-1.
After Potes' homer in the third gave the Spartans a 3-1 lead, Rice pulled to within 3-2 with an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth.
Berry exited after allowing seven earned runs on nine hits in 4.2 innings. He walked four and gave up four extra-base hits. The Spartans' nine-game trip comes to a close against Creighton Saturday, March 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET. Creighton is the sixth team on MSU's schedule to have played in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.