DEFENDING BIG TEN CHAMPION SPARTANS BEGIN CONFERENCE PLAY AGAINST OHIO STATE
Defending Big Ten Champion Michigan State opens conference play this weekend as it hosts Ohio State Saturday-Monday at McLane Baseball Stadium. The series was pushed back a day due to inclement weather in the Greater Lansing Area on Friday.
The Spartans, who won their first league title since 1979 last spring, are looking to repeat as Big Ten Champions for the first time in program history. MSU (15-7) will begin that challenging task by taking on the Buckeyes (13-10, 1-2), who started Big Ten play last week and fell in two of three games to No. 19 Purdue.
Michigan State enters the weekend on a eight-game winning streak, currently the second-longest of the Jake Boss era. In his second season in 2010, MSU rattled off 11 straight. The Spartans have won 11 of their last 12 games overall, including series sweeps over Cincinnati (March 16-18) and Oakland (March 23-25) and midweek victories over Bowling Green and Central Michigan. In the come-from-behind triumph over the Chippewas on Wednesday, the Spartans claimed their second walk-off win of the season on a Jared Hook sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning that scored Torsten Boss.
“We’ve played well at home and our guys enjoying playing here,” said Boss, as the Spartans are 5-0 at home this season and went 11-1 at home last season in Big Ten games. “It’s a very good Ohio State team that’s coming in. They really competed with Purdue last week and had a tough, hard-fought series against them. They’re going to be a good ballclub, we know that.”
Ohio State defeated Eastern Michigan, 13-4, in its last outing Tuesday at Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus. The Buckeyes have played a difficult non-conference schedule, including a three-game series at Georgia Tech, a two-game set against Coastal Carolina, as well as games against Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida.
OSU leads the overall series against MSU, 131-84-1, and won two of three games last season in Columbus.
LOOKING TO MAKE HISTORY
MSU has won four Big Ten regular-season titles in school history (1954, 1971, 1979, 2011) but has never repeated as conference champs. The Spartans won their fourth Big Ten title and first since 1979 with a 15-9 record in 2011, sharing the regular-season crown with Illinois. MSU was in first place wire-to-wire in the Big Ten standings. In a vote by the conference coaches, Michigan State was selected as the 2012 preseason favorite in the Big Ten, followed by Purdue and Minnesota.
SPARTAN PITCHING STAFF RANKED FIRST IN BIG TEN
Michigan State leads the Big Ten in nearly every pitching category, including ERA (2.70), opposing batting average (.241), saves (7) and walks allowed (60). Entering the week, MSU was ranked No. 24 in the nation with a 2.82 ERA. In addition, the Spartans own a strikeout/walk ratio of 2.50 (150 strikeouts/60 walks), which is first in the Big Ten, and rank 17th in the nation in walks allowed per nine innings at 2.53. “Mark Van Ameyde is doing a great job,” said Boss. “I’ve said on more than one occasion that I think he’s the best pitching coach in this conference. You see the results that he’s getting with our guys.”
TONY BUCCIFERRO GARNERING NATIONAL ATTENTION
Senior right-hander Tony Bucciferro continues to climb up the ladder in Michigan State’s record book. He’s third in innings pitched (299.2) and strikeouts (211) and tied fourth in wins (23).
Bucciferro has put together several impressive performances on the mound during his career at Michigan State - add Opening Day 2012 to that list. The senior right-hander allowed only one hit through six innings against No. 11 St. John’s. He struck out six, didn’t surrender a walk, and retired his first 13 batters. Bucciferro, a 2011 Cape Cod League All-Star, gathered some national attention for his start, as Perfect Game USA columnist Kendall Rogers tabbed him as “one of the nation’s best pitchers.” It was good enough for Bucciferro to earn Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week accolades, marking the second time in his career he has won the weekly award.
In the 4-3 victory over Cincinnati on March 16, Bucciferro won his third game of the season and struck out a career-high 10 batters.
Bucciferro ranks tied for third in the Big Ten in strikeouts (32), tied for fourth in innings pitched (38.2), tied for sixth walks allowed (2) and tied for seventh in wins (3).
Michigan State’s weekend rotation of Tony Bucciferro, Andrew Waszak and Mike Theodore has pitched at an elite level all season. The three starters have combined for a 2.16 ERA, 66 strikeouts and just 24 walks allowed in their combined 17 starts (108 1/3 innings).
Waszak, MSU’s No. 3 starter last season, has moved up into the No. 2 spot in convincing fashion. Every one of his six starts this season has been a quality start (at least six innings pitched; three earned runs or less), and he has given up just seven earned runs in 38 2/3 innings this season. Waszak (2-1) ranks among the Big Ten leaders in opposing batting average (second at .194), ERA (fourth at 1.63), and innings pitched (tied for fourth with 38.2).
Theodore attended Tennessee but did not see action in 2010, and had to sit out the 2011 season after transferring to MSU. He earned his first collegiate win on March 18 at Cincinnati. The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native leads the Big Ten with a 1.39 ERA while ranking ninth in the conferece in opposing batting average (.237). In his five starts, Theodore (2-1) owns a 1.16 ERA.
SOLID AT SECOND
Junior Ryan Jones is in his third season as the starting second baseman for the Spartans. Last season, Jones became the first Spartan to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors at second base in 36 years as he hit .344 and led the team with a .442 on-base percentage.
Jones currently leads the team and ranks sixth in the Big Ten with a .536 slugging percentage (six doubles, two triples, two homers) and is second on the team in batting (.371) and on-base percentage (.432). After batting in all four spots in the order during the first month of the season, Jones has batted leadoff in the past five games.
Last summer, Jones was named to the Cape Cod League All-Star Team while playing for the Brewster Whitecaps. He finished 17th in the CCL with a .283 average during the 44-game regular season, and had a hit and a run in the CCL All-Star Game at Fenway Park on July 29. During his All-Big Ten campaign as a sophomore, Jones collected a school-record 33-game hitting streak from March 6 to May 8. It tied for the longest hitting streak in the nation in 2011.
LONGEST HITTING STREAKS - MSU HISTORY
Player Streak Year
Ryan Jones 33 2011
Troy Krider 24 2005
Tony Spada 20 1978
Erik Morris 20 2004/05
KEUR OFF TO HOT START
Junior left fielder Jordan Keur, who has reached base in 17 straight games, has led the Spartans in batting average all season long and is currently first in the Big Ten with his .400 average. He also ranks among the league leaders in on-base percentage (first at .491) and hits (tied for second with 36). Keur has started all 22 games in left field this season for the Spartans.