ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Michigan State baseball team lost another tough one-run game on Sunday afternoon, falling to No. 15 Louisville, 7-6, at the Walter Fuller Complex in its final game of the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
The Spartans, who played three of the top programs in the Big East, finished 1-2 at the season-opening event after defeating No. 11 St. John’s on Friday, 11-4, but losing to South Florida on Saturday, 2-1.
“We had plenty of opportunities today, but we just weren’t able to come through at the plate,” said MSU head coach Jake Boss, as the Spartans stranded 10 runners on base, including four at third. “Our approach at the plate the last two games wasn’t where it needs to be. We had a chance to score some more runs in the third with the bases loaded and no outs, and could’ve broke the game open. You can’t leave those opportunities out there when you’re facing a good club like Louisville.”
MSU started the scoring off with an unearned run in the top of the second, but Louisville (2-1) took a 2-1 lead in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run homer by Zak Wasserman.
Michigan State quickly rallied and scored four runs in the top of the third to chase Cardinal starter Travis Tingle and reclaim the lead, 5-2. Ryan Jones led off the frame with a solo homer to left center, and after loading the bases with consecutive singles and a Louisville error, Jimmy Pickens drew a walk to bring home Justin Scanlon from third. Designated hitter Tony Wieber followed with an RBI single through the right side, and another bases-loaded walk, this time to Jared Hook, put the Spartans up three runs.
Although MSU had a big inning, it failed to score more runs with the bases loaded and no outs. It would come back to haunt the Spartans, as their lead would be short lived.
Louisville promptly tied the game at 5 by plating three runs of its own in the bottom of the third off Spartan starter David Garner, keyed by a two-run triple from Jeff Gardner.
Garner (0-1) was replaced by Trey Popp in the fourth after the Cardinals added another run to take a 6-5 advantage. Louisville extended its lead to 7-5 on a Nick Ratajczak RBI single in the sixth.
“Our starting pitching the first two days was outstanding,” said Boss. “Tony Bucciferro on Friday and Andrew Waszak yesterday threw as good as I’ve seen them. But David got behind in some counts and wasn’t as sharp as he normally is today, and Louisville capitalized.”
Garner last 3.2 innings, allowing six runs on seven hits with four strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Cardinal reliever Chad Green (1-0) shut down the Spartan bats with three scoreless innings in the middle frames.
The Green and White manufactured a run in the seventh to get back on the scoreboard and trim the deficit to 7-6. Keur reached first on a bunt single, advanced to second on a throwing error by the pitcher, went to third on a flyout, and scored on a RBI groundout off the bat of Wieber. The Spartans then put together back-to-back, two-out singles from Hook and John Martinez, but pinch hitter Ryan Krill flew out to right field to end the threat.
In the eighth, Jones led off with a walk and got to third on consecutive groundouts; however, a Keur bunt to the pitcher wasn’t enough to bring Jones home and tie the game, as Keur was thrown out at first to close the inning.
Cardinal closer Derek Self retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his first save of the season.
Michigan State collected 10 hits in the game, including two each by Boss, Keur and Martinez.
Michigan State returns to action next weekend for the First Pitch Invitational (Feb. 24-26) in Greenville, S.C. The Spartans will play Miami-Ohio and Furman twice at the event, which is being held at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive.