IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A five-run seventh inning completed Michigan State’s comeback from a 4-1 deficit after the fifth inning as MSU rallied to beat No. 24 Iowa, 7-5, Saturday afternoon at Iowa’s Banks Field and help the Spartans capture their third-straight Big Ten Conference series.
The win also snapped Iowa’s six-series win streak, and was the first time the Hawkeyes had lost a series at home this season. Michigan State’s three B1G series win streak is the Spartans’ longest since winning three league series in a row in 2016, when MSU won three-straight B1G series as part of four series wins in a row overall.
Iowa scored a run in the third and fourth innings for a 2-0 lead, before MSU got on the board with a run in the top of the fifth to close to 2-1. However, the Hawkeyes plated two runs in the home half of the fifth for a 4-1 lead. The Spartans rallied by hanging five runs on the board in the top of the seventh and all five runs coming with two outs, with the big blow coming on a bases-loaded three-run double by senior infielder Marty Bechina. Fellow senior infielder Royce Ando capped the scoring in the inning with an RBI single, before adding another RBI single in the ninth for a 7-4 lead.
“It was a heck of a win for our guys. It didn’t start well for us, I thought missed some opportunities, but we kept staying alive in the game and staying alive in some at bats. Marty Bechina had a huge bases loaded double in the seventh to put us ahead, and then what a day by Royce Ando, with a bunch of RBI and just a real character win for our guys,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said.
Iowa tried to rally in the ninth, getting a run back, before junior reliever Indigo Diaz slammed the door on the rally by inducing a fly out.
“Even if you look at just the ninth, that’s a good ball club over there in Iowa, and they kept fighting, they kept scratching, it’s their Senior Day and their last home game, you knew we were going to get a really good effort out of those guys. They gave themselves a chance in the ninth, but Indigo made a pitch when we needed him to. I’m just really proud of our guys, this was a big series win on the road, Iowa’s ranked in the Top 25 and for us to go on the road and win the series is just a great accomplishment for our guys. I’m just very, very proud of our guys.”
Senior reliever Evan Flohr earned the win, pitching 2.2 innings of relief of junior starter Caleb Sleeman, who went 4.0 IP, scattering seven hits and allowing four runs, three earned, and striking out two. Flohr didn’t give up a hit and only walked one, improving to 3-0 on the season with the win.
“Evan did a good job today. We’d like him to maybe throw a little bit more strikes, maybe he was just effectively wild today,” Boss said with a laugh. “When he pitches to contact, his stuff is really good and he’s going to get a lot of guys out. Big two-and-two-thirds out of him today, no hits, he only walked one guy and held us where we needed him to and turned it over to Indigo for the last two-and-a-third.”
Diaz earned the save after pitching the final 2.1 IP, yielding just one hit and one unearned run, while chalking up a pair of strikeouts. It’s the seventh save of the season for Diaz, remaining at No. 9 on MSU’s single-season saves list, needing one more to join a three-way logjam at No. 6. Diaz entered the weekend tied for eighth in the B1G in saves.
“Indigo is a guy that we had as a starter at the beginning of the year, but he’s now become the guy that we want to have the ball in his hand at the end of the game, and he’s settled into that role really well,” Boss said.
Ando was 3-for-4 with two RBI, one of three Spartans with multiple hits, as MSU rapped out 11 for the day, giving the Spartans back-to-back outings with double-figure hits after 10 hits Saturday afternoon. Michigan State has now posted double-digits in the hit column in four of the last six games as part of 17 total times this season.
Junior outfielder Bryce Kelley was 3-for-5, a home run shy of the cycle, with two runs scored, and an RBI, while senior catcher Nic Lacayo was 2-for-4 with a run scored. Bechina ended 1-for-4 with the three RBI, while freshman outfielder Zaid Walker and junior designated hitter Bailey Peterson were both 1-for-5, with Peterson scoring a run. Sophomore infielder Zach Iverson didn’t log a hit, but did score a run in the seventh after drawing a walk, while junior infielder Andrew Morrow added an RBI after reaching on a fielder’s choice.
Iowa scored first with a run in the home half of the third, with a leadoff single by Ben Norman, then after a groundout to move Norman to second, Chris Whelan singled to drive Norman in for a 1-0 Hawkeye advantage. The home team added another run in the bottom of the fourth on another leadoff single and later taking advantage of an MSU error and scoring a run for a 2-0 lead.
The Spartans got on the board and cut the deficit in half in the top of the fifth, as Peterson led off with a double to left center. Peterson moved up to third on a single to right by Lacayo and two batters later, Morrow’s fielder’s choice RBI drove Peterson in and MSU trailed 2-1.
Iowa regained a cushion in the home half of the fifth, plating two runs on four hits. The Hawkeyes loaded the bases with no outs and had one run in, and MSU made a pitching change, with Flohr coming on to relieve Sleeman. The Spartans got out of bases loaded jam with minimal damage, getting an out on sac fly, then with runners on the corners, getting an out on the basepaths trying to steal second and home, before a fly out to center ended the inning, limiting Iowa’s lead to just 4-1.
The scored stayed 4-1 until the seventh, when Lacayo reached on a one-out infield single, starting the Spartan rally. Iverson walked, then two batters later, Kelley singled to right to drive in Lacayo. That brought Chmielewski to the plate, and he was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Bechina was next up and he belted his double to right center, clearing the bases in scoring Iverson, Kelley and Chmielewski, putting MSU ahead, 5-4, and chasing Iowa relief pitcher Trace Hoffman. Ando greeted new Iowa pitcher Grant Leonard with a single to right, plating Bechina to cap the Spartans’ five-run inning with a 6-4 advantage.
Michigan State didn’t rest on its laurels, as Kelley led off the top of the ninth by belting a triple to right center on the first pitch he saw from Leonard. Two batters later Bechina walked, bringing Ando to the dish and laced a single to left, plating Kelley and putting MSU ahead, 7-4.
Iowa did not go quietly in the ninth, as Mitchell Boe belted a one-out double, and later scored on a two-out MSU error, but Diaz induced a flyout to Chemielewski in center to end the game and seal the Victory for MSU to clinch the series.
Michigan State plays its final regular-season midweek game on Tuesday, May 14, heading to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to tangle with in-state foe Central Michigan in a 4:05 p.m. start time.
The Spartans then wrap up regular-season play hosting Illinois in a three-game series, opening Thursday, May 16, under the lights at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field in a 5:30 p.m. first pitch, nationally televised on Big Ten Network. Friday’s game two of the series is set for 6:35 p.m., before Saturday’s series finale at 1:05 p.m.
Saturday will also be MSU’s Senior Day, as the Spartans will honor their five senior players: Royce Ando, Marty Bechina, Dan Chmielewski, Evan Flohr and Nic Lacayo, as well as senior managers Atticus Bohr, Eric Behan and Joseph “Rocco” Spizziri, in a pre-game ceremony.
Fans can also follow Spartan baseball action through “Live Stats,” “Listen Live” and “Watch Live” links found at MSUSpartans.com. The games will be video streamed on BTN2Go, and will also be carried on the Spartan Sports Network live audio stream. The broadcast will be available exclusively at SpartanSportsNetwork.com and on the network’s 24/7 app for mobile devices (available on iTunes and Google Play). Broadcast veteran Scott Moore calls the action alongside former MSU manager/bullpen catcher David Greenberg in select games.
Any schedule updates due to weather will be announced on www.MSUSpartans.com and on twitter @statebaseball.