EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State was topped by No. 23 Illinois, 5-3, Saturday afternoon at a sun-bathed McLane Stadium at Kobs Field on the Spartans’ Senior Day.
Before the game, MSU honored its eight seniors in five senior players: Royce Ando, Marty Bechina, Dan Chmielewski, Evan Flohr and Nic Lacayo, as well as three senior managers: Atticus Bohr, Eric Behan and Joseph “Rocco” Spizziri, in a pre-game ceremony.
“It’s tough to see the season come to an end. It’s never easy especially when you’ve got great kids and I’m just really proud of this group for keeping things together the way that they did. We were at that point in the middle of the year where it really could’ve gotten away from us and I think we played our best baseball the last four weeks of the season; I think we really played well,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “So again all the credit goes to those seniors for keeping it together, they were the glue, they were the leaders and they were our best players. Again, it’s tough to see it come to an end, but I think they can walk away feeling good about what they accomplished here at Michigan State.”
Following MSU’s final game of 2019, the Spartan seniors performed the MSU traditional kissing of the Spartan head in center field.
“You only get to do that once and I was fortunate enough to be here for it and it’s a great tradition, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Bechina said afterwards.
After the game, the seniors hugged their teammates and were joined on the field by family and friends, getting more hugs and posing for photos, sharing laughs and tears.
“There’s actually a lot of things, I feel like my mind’s going a thousand miles an hour right now,” Chmielewski said afterwards about his emotions after the game. “A culmination of a lot of thoughts and memories, just saying goodbye to a lot of teammates. I’m proud of the way we competed though, finished the season strong, won three of the last four series, we were at a point in the season where things were pretty low and I think that for us to stick together and fight until the end showed a lot of character and a lot of what Spartan baseball is about.”
Ando was 1-for-2 and got hit by a pitch three times, while Bechina was 1-for-5 and Lacayo was 1-for-2, in their final games as Spartan players.
“Yes a little bit, kind of when people started cheering it hit me, I knew it was probably my last at bat and running off the field was a little emotional,” Bechina said about being an emotional end to the game, receiving one of the many standing ovations for the senior players in the final inning. “It was definitely a decorated career, I had my ups and downs but played a lot of baseball games, I’ve been to a lot of cool places, met a lot of great teammates and lifelong friends and I’m thankful for it, thankful for the opportunity to wear the Green and White.”
Junior outfielder Bryce Kelley was 2-for-4 with two RBI, drawing an RBI walk in the sixth and an RBI single in the eighth.
Sophomore catcher Adam Proctor was 1-for-3 with a deep solo home run over the wall and into the Red Cedar River beyond the wall in right center in the second inning. It was Proctor’s team-leading ninth home run of the season, giving him 11 extra base hits out of 16 hits on the season.
Junior starter Caleb Sleeman went 5.0 IP and tied a career-high with six strikeouts, yielding four runs. Flohr came on in relief and went 2.2 IP, getting one K. Junior reliever Indigo Diaz went 1.1 IP and also rang up a strikeout. Diaz came on to relieve Flohr in the top of the eighth, and Flohr got hugs and high fives from his teammates to go with a standing ovation from the crowd on the way to the dugout.
Flohr made his 30th appearance of the season, which tied the MSU single-season record for appearances, matching Walter Borkovich in 2015 and Jeff Kinley in 2014. The 30 appearances is also tied for the most in the Big Ten this season.
Illinois got an early jump with a run in the top of the first frame, with Michael Massey lacing a one-out single to start the rally. Two batters later, Kellen Sarver smacked a double to the gap in left center to drive in Massey and give the Illini an early 1-0 advantage.
The Spartans leveled it up in the bottom of the second with Proctor’s blast into the Red Cedar River beyond the right center field wall. The Spartan rally continued with a single by Lacayo, who reached second on a rare Illinois error of the bat of sophomore infielder Zach Iverson, before the Illini turned a double play to end the frame, keeping the score level at 1-1.
Illinois quickly countered with two runs in the top of third on a two-run home run to left by Zac Taylor, for a 3-1 Illini advantage. The visitors added a run in the top of the fifth with another round-tripper on Brandon Comia’s first home run of the game for a 4-1 lead.
MSU cut the gap to 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out rally. The Spartans loaded the bases on walks, all with two down, before junior outfielder Bryce Kelley drew another walk to drive in redshirt-freshman catcher Scott Combs, who drew the first free pass of the frame. After the second Illinois pitching change of the inning, a popup ended the rally.
Illinois went back up by three runs with Comia’s second round-tripper of the game to lead off the top of the seventh for a 5-2 Illini advantage.
The Spartans closed to 5-3 in the eighth as junior pinch-hitter Bailey Peterson sparked the rally by reaching after being hit by a pitch, then moved to second on an Iverson walk. Two batters later, Kelley laced a single through the left side and Peterson scampered around from second. However, a double played ended thwarted the Spartan threat.
MSU tried to rally in its last at bat, with Ando reaching on another hit by pitch, the sixth of the game by Illinois pitchers, but just like the eighth, a double play ended not only the Spartan rally, but also the game and the season for Michigan State.
Later Saturday evening, the Spartans honored and celebrated the eight seniors at the annual banquet.
The Green & White finished the season winning three of its last four B1G series, including two on the road. The Spartans also had three wins over Top 25 teams down the stretch, with a pair of wins at No. 24 Iowa last weekend and a win over No. 23 Illinois on Friday night. MSU celebrated not only its 135th year of baseball in 2019, including honoring the 65th anniversary of the 1954 College World Series team and also the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Big Ten Champion and NCAA Regional team, but also its first with lights at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, going 7-2 at home under the lights.