BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Despite a brilliant effort by starting pitcher Craig Brookes, the Michigan State baseball team fell short in its Big Ten opener Friday afternoon, falling to Indiana, 2-1, at Sembower Field. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the ninth, Indiana first baseman Jon Fixler delivered the game-winning hit, a single up the middle, scoring Chris Hervey from second base. Brookes, who at one point retired 17 consecutive batters, struck out five and scattered five hits in 8 1/3 innings on the mound. The Spartans (8-9, 0-1 Big Ten) out-hit the Hoosiers, 15-5, but left 10 runners on base in the contest, as Indiana (11-8, 1-0) won its seventh straight game.
Brookes wasn’t the only pitcher in a groove on Friday - IU starter Tyler Tufts matched the Big Ten’s ERA leader the entire game. Although Tufts scattered 15 hits, most of them came with two outs, and he benefited from some costly Spartan base running miscues. In the third, Steve Gerstenberger connected on a two-out single to left, but was picked off to end the inning. A double play ended the Spartans’ fifth, while in the sixth, Chris Roberts was thrown out at second base after rounding the bag too far on another Gerstenberger single.
Meanwhile, Brookes was mowing down the Hoosier bats. After giving up a leadoff single to Keith Haas in the first, Brookes sent 17 straight Hoosiers to the dugout. But in the sixth, Haas was at it again. With two outs in the inning, Haas hit an infield single past a diving Eric Roof at third base, and promptly stole second base. Although Brookes got two quick strikes on the next batter, Evan Crawford, the freshman second baseman and leading hitter for the Hoosiers hit a single up the middle, plating the speedy Hass from second for the game’s first run.
MSU continued to put pressure on Tufts, placing one runner on base in the seventh and two in the eighth, but the sophomore battled through every jam - until the ninth. Evan Friedland led off with a single up the middle, putting Sean Walker in the batter’s box. Walker attempted to bunt on the first offering, but held off when it was low. On the next pitch, Walker swung away, smashing a line drive right up the middle - but Tufts snared the ball, and flipped it over to first for the easy double play.
The Spartans, however, battled right back, as Eli Boike notched a single to right. The next batter, Eric Roof, found himself in a jam with two outs and two strikes, but calmly delivered a clutch single to the gap in right, sending Boike to third. As Boike slid into third, the Spartans caught a break, as IU rightfielder Chris Harvey made an errant throw to the cutoff man at short, and the ball bounced into left field. Boike quickly got up and scurried home for the tying run, while Roof trotted to second. Spartan leadoff batter Dennis Jones then did what he does best, laying down a perfect bunt to third base to put runners on first and third. After the bunt single, Tufts - who had thrown 117 pitches - was replaced by lefty Joe Vicini. Jones stole second on Vicini’s first offering, putting two runners in scoring position for Chris Roberts. Vicini halted MSU’s rally as he got Roberts to hit a grounder to first.
With Brookes’ pitch count in the low-80s, he remained in the game for the bottom of the ninth. After allowing just three base runners all game, he gave up three in the ninth alone as Indiana rallied back for the 2-1 victory. Hervey led off with a single to center, and advanced to second on a groundout to first, safely reaching the bag after an unsuccessful double-play attempt by MSU. The Spartans intentionally walked Crawford to set up the double play, but on a 1-1 count, Fixler connected for the game-winning hit.
Offensively, Gerstenberger led the way for the Green and White, going 4-for-4 at the plate. It was his second four-hit game of the season and raised his team-best batting average to .433. Day had a season-high three hits, while Boike and Walker each collected two.
Although Brookes lost his first game of the year, it was his team-leading fourth quality start of the season (at least six innings, three or fewer earned runs).
Michigan State and Indiana continue their series with a doubleheader Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m.