STANFORD, Calif. – A historic season for the Michigan State baseball team ended Saturday afternoon as the Spartans were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with an 8-2 loss to Fresno State in the Stanford Regional at Sunken Diamond.
The Spartans finish the year with a 37-23 record, marking the third-most wins in program history.
Fresno State, the No. 4 seed in the four-team Stanford Regional, used timely hitting to advance in the consolation bracket, scoring seven of its eight runs with two outs.
“I thought we were capable of playing better, which is probably the most disappointing thing,” said MSU head coach Jake Boss on his team’s performance. “Credit Fresno State. They made a couple of big plays when they needed to…Momentum was a big thing. They got it and took it and ran with it, and we couldn't get it stopped.”
The Bulldogs (31-27), champions of the WAC Tournament, jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first – all with two outs and nobody on base – on back-to-back RBI singles by Trent Garrison and Kenneth Wise.
MSU bounced right back with a big two-out hit of its own courtesy of freshman Blaise Salter, who crushed a two-run double off the wall in left field to tie the game at 2.
On his next at-bat in the third, Salter nearly gave MSU the lead as he smoked a deep shot to center field with Torsten Boss on first base, but Bulldog center fielder Aaron Judge made a run-saving catch against the fence for the third out of the inning.
“Their centerfielder (Judge) made a big play,” said Boss. “That took some wind out of our sails.”
After shaky starts, both starting pitchers – Andrew Waszak for Michigan State and Thomas Harlan for Fresno State – settled in as the game remained tied at 2 until the top of the sixth inning. Following a leadoff single by Patrick Hutcheson, Waszak recorded two popouts, but gave up a double to Garrison that scored Hutcheson from first, putting Fresno State back on top, 3-2.
Harlan, who had retired eight of his last nine, actually left the game in the fifth with one out, but the Bulldog bullpen picked right up where he left off in not yielding another run the rest of the way.
Fresno State delivered another clutch two-out hit in the seventh to extend its lead to 4-2, as the No. 9 batter, Jordan Brink, hit an RBI single to right field.
MSU’s last real scoring threat came in the bottom half of the seventh inning with two outs and runners on first and second for Ryan Jones. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Jones hit a check-swing grounder to first base that ended the inning.
The Bulldogs added another run in the eighth, but a Spartan triple play ended the inning and kept Michigan State within striking distance. With Garrison on first, Aaron Judge on second, and a full count to Wise, Fresno State sent the runners in motion – and it appeared to work out perfectly as Wise crushed a ball to deep right center; however, Spartan center fielder Anthony Cheky made a diving catch to save two runs, and fired the ball back into the infield. The Bulldog runners were so far from their bases that they practically conceded the triple play, as first baseman Ryan Krill threw it to shortstop Justin Scanlon to second base for the second out before going back to first to record the third out. Officially, the play was recorded as an 8-3-6-3 triple play.
The play failed to spark the Spartans, as MSU put just one runner on base the final two innings. Meanwhile, Fresno State padded their lead with three runs in the top of the ninth to make the final 8-2.
Waszak (4-4) suffered the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits in seven innings while striking out four. Gene Escat (4-0) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless relief innings to earn the win, and Taylor Garrison picked up his 11th save with 2 1/3 shutout frames.
Cheky led MSU at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a double and was a team-best 3-for-7 (.429) in the two NCAA Tournament games.
The 2012 season was another stepping stone for the Spartan program as it continues its rise onto the national stage. MSU won at least 30 games for the third straight year, a first in program history, and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, marking the school’s first appearance in the tournament since 1979 and just the fifth overall.
“Obviously losing today hurts right now,” said Boss. “But in a week or two when we really step back and take a look at things, a lot of credit goes to our senior class. Really, all the credit goes to our senior class. All those guys came in our first year here and they bought in and changed the culture of the program. We brought in a couple junior college guys like Justin [Scanlon] here that added to that momentum and really turned things around and took Michigan State baseball to a place it hasn't been in a long time.
“So the credit goes out to those guys. They go out a play hard every day. They work hard in practice for us. It's a good group of kids and they're fun to be around. That's probably the hardest thing about the season coming to an end because it's such a good group of guys that is not going to get a chance to play together again.”