GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Down 6-2 in the fourth inning, Michigan State baseball rallied with six unanswered runs for an 8-6 victory for MSU over Ball State Sunday afternoon in the final game of the 2020 First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive.
The Spartans had a four-run seventh to take a 7-6 lead and added an insurance run in the eighth for the 8-6 win.
MSU improved to 8-3 on the season, while Ball State slid to 3-7 for the year and 1-3 for the weekend. The Spartans were the home team for all three of their games, as the home team won all seven games in the First Pitch Invitational, with Western Carolina going 2-1, while Kansas was 1-3.
With the win, Michigan State went 3-0 for the weekend at Fluor Field, and all three by a combined three runs, winning 8-7 Friday night on a walk-off win, 4-3 Saturday night on a defensive walk-off, before Sunday’s come-from-behind victory.
“I’m really proud of our guys today; it was kind of a grind it out type of a win and our guys continued to play hard and took advantage of opportunities when we had them,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said.
The MSU bats were kept in check a bit in the early going by Ball State starting pitcher Chayce McDermott,chipping away throughout the game, before breaking through late.
“I thought their starter was really good, and he did a great job of keeping us off balance. He didn’t really give us a whole lot of opportunities,” Boss said. “Fortunately for us, we were able get three across and but he did a nice job of limiting the damage. Then we got into the bullpen and finally took advantage of a couple more opportunities that we had and strung together a big inning.”
While the offense got going late, the Spartan bullpen also was whirring late, as the relievers combined for 5.2 IP without a run and only four hits, ringing up eight strikeouts. Redshirt-freshman William Christophersen earned his first collegiate win, while junior third baseman/pitcher Zach Iverson picked up his second save in as many games.
“It feels great, I don’t have any other words because it feels so great,” Christophersen said.
Christophersen rang up back-to-back strikeouts for the first two outs, but then allowed a single, walk and hit-by-pitch to load the bases, but he got out of the jam with a flyout.
“I got the first two outs pretty quickly, on six pitches, but then just had to get back to that mindset and trust my pitches, especially my slider to get me out of it. I just need to be confident at all times in the at bat,” Christophersen said. “It a great outing by the bullpen, we had five guys come out and didn’t give up a run from the bullpen today, so that was a big effort by the pen. We’ve got some spot guys that came in and did their job and that’s what we all did all weekend. So as a bullpen, we’re excited about that and proud that we can be trusted in situations like that. It was just a great team win today.”
Christophersen was making his second appearance in as many days. He came on in a key situation in Saturday’s game against Western Carolina, getting called out of the bullpen in the seventh, with two on and two outs, chalking up a strikeout, as the Spartan bullpen was solid all weekend.
“The bullpen did a great job today and it was a lot of different guys. Caleb Sleeman I think did a nice job getting us in deeper into the game,” Boss said. “For William Christophersen to get his first collegiate win today was huge for him and after a big appearance last night in a big spot and getting the big strikeout, hopefully this is something that really boosts his confidence,” Boss said. “Wyatt Rush did an outstanding job in the eighth and Zach Iverson is just a flat out competitor and he wanted the ball in the ninth and, we’ll go compete with guys like that anytime. It was just a really good team effort, both out of the offense and out of the pitching staff today.”
At the plate, redshirt-sophomore infielder Peter Ahn was 2-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored, while senior outfielder Bryce Kelley was 3-for-5 with two runs scored. Iverson was 2-for-4 with an RBI while playing third base for the first eight innings of the game. Sophomore outfielder Zaid Walker was 1-for-4 with a solo home run over the Green Monster in left field, while senior designated hitter Andrew Morrow was also 1-for-4 with two RBI, and freshman outfielder Jack Frank joined in on the 1-for-4 group with a run scored, touching home on a big sacrifice fly by sophomore infielder Brendan Regan in the eighth for the insurance run.
“Peter Ahn had a big day for us with three RBI and a big hit in the seventh. Bryce Kelley with three key hits, and he did what he needed to do as a leadoff guy. Andrew Morrow had two big RBI, and then a huge sacrifice fly off the bat of Brendan Reagan in the eighth to give us a two-run cushion,” Boss said.
Sunday’s two-run win was the largest during the Spartans’ four-game win streak, as the previous three wins were all by a run.
“I’m just extremely, extremely proud of those guys and the way that they competed today, we were down 6-2 at one point and came back with six unanswered to win it,” Boss said. “I think we showed a lot of character today.”
The Spartans got on the board in their first at bat, with Morrow smacking an RBI single up the middle to score senior infielder Bailey Peterson, who drew a one-out walk.
After Ball State strung together five hits to score four runs in the top of the third, MSU got a run back in the home half of the third frame. After Kelley sparked the rally with a one-out single up the middle, Ahn smacked a triple down the right field line and down into the corner.
The Cardinals plated a pair in the top of the fourth, on a double and taking advantage of an MSU error and later a single. However, senior starter Sam Benschoter shut the door on any more of a rally with a strikeout, one of his six Ks on the day in 3.1 IP, keeping the score at 6-1.
Michigan State started its comeback with a run in the bottom of the fourth off Walker’s blast over the Green Monster to pull MSU within, 6-2.
That stayed the score until the seventh, when the Spartans put a four-spot on the board. Sophomore catcher Scott Combs ignited the rally with a single up the middle. Kelley and Peterson followed with singles, with freshman Zach Hopman coming on the pinch run for Combs in between. After a BSU pitching change, Ahn greeted new Cardinal reliever with a two-run single and Morrow followed with an RBI groundout. Iverson then reached on a BSU fielding error, scoring Ahn for the Spartans’ fourth run of the frame and a 7-6 lead.
Frank’s triple to the gap in right center led off the Spartan eighth, and two batters later, Regan’s sac fly drove in Frank for the final 8-6 scoring.
Iverson came on in the ninth, chalking up two strikeouts before a foul out to Ahn at first ended it and sparking the Spartan celebration.
Michigan State will remain in Greenville for the first part of its Spring Break week, playing South Carolina-Upstate on Wednesday, March 4 at 4 p.m. at Fluor Field.
The Spartans will then head to Pensacola, Florida to play in the Cox Diamond Invitational, Friday-Sunday, March 6-8. MSU will open action against Troy on Friday, March 6, then Louisiana on Saturday, March 7 and Samford on Sunday, March 8.
Fans can follow the action with available links at MSUSpartans.com.