LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State got a pair of solid starting pitching performances from senior Chris Cullen and freshman A.J. Achter as the Spartan baseball team finished its four-game series against Illinois by splitting a doubleheader Sunday at Oldsmobile Park. Illinois won the first game, 5-3, in seven innings, but MSU rallied for a 3-2 win in the nightcap. Junior Eric Roof had an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth and freshman Tyler Newsome (1-1) pitched well in relief to pick up the game two win.
For the day, senior Steve Gerstenberger led the Spartan offense by going 4-for-7 with an RBI and two runs scored. Fellow senior Evan Friedland added three hits, all coming in the second game of the doubleheader.
"Today was about survival for us," head coach David Grewe said. "What matters now is how we respond over the next five Big Ten weekends. Last year, we started 3-1 and you saw what mattered: the next five weekends."
Junior Kyle Day scored the Spartans' winning run after being hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. Day then stole second and scored when Eric Roof smacked a 2-2 pitch from Illini starter Aaron Martin into right field. Newsome then cruised through the ninth to pick up his first career win.
"We got two outstanding pitching performances from two freshmen," Grewe said. "What a way to start their Big Ten careers. If we don't get those outstanding performances, we might not win that game."
Michigan State struck first in the nightcap when Gerstenberger singled and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Potes. Illinois took the lead with a pair of runs in the third inning when Stockwell scored on a passed ball and Hudson walked and scored on a Wikoff sac fly.
MSU rallied to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Freshman shortstop Jonathan Roof led off the inning by reaching on an error, and Gerstenberger and Doherty laid down bunt singles to load the bases. Jonathan Roof scored the tying run on an Illini double play.
MSU lost game one in heartbreaking fashion. Michigan State led 3-1 into the final inning until Illinois scored four runs in the top of the seventh. After a Craig Lutes RBI double pulled the Illini within 3-2, pinch-hitter Mike Giller, who entered the game hitless in nine at-bats, delivered an RBI single to score Lutes and tie the game 3-3.
Brandon Wikoff added an RBI single and Kyle Hudson scored on a bizarre rundown play to give Illinois a 5-3 lead. The Spartans couldn't answer in their last at-bat. Illinois' Scott Shaw (2-1) pitched a complete game, scattering six hits and allowing two earned runs. Daniel Webb went 3-for-3 to lead the Illini.
Trailing 1-0 early in the game, MSU struck for three runs in the bottom of the third. Jonathan Roof singled to lead off the inning and he scored on a Gerstenberger double. Gerstenberger, who raised his batting average 58 points during the series, scored moments later on a single to left by sophomore Chris Roberts. Later in the inning, with runners on first and second, senior Justin Potes moved runners into scoring position and Roberts scored on a throwing error by Shaw.
Neither team would score again until the Illinois seventh. Cullen gave another strong outing, striking out six and allowing just one run on six hits.
Cullen made his biggest pitches in the top of the fifth. After Craig Lutes tripled off the left-center wall to start the inning, Cullen struck out Stockwell and got Kyle Hudson to ground softly to first. Cullen then fanned Bonadonna looking to get out of the inning unscathed. He continually left Illinois baserunners stranded and retired 18 of the 23 batters he faced.
Michigan State (8-12, 1-3 Big Ten) hosts Eastern Michigan Wednesday, April 2 at 3:05 p.m. at Kobs Field. MSU then travels to Northwestern for a four-game series beginning Friday, April 4.