Feb. 21, 2014
Surprise, Ariz. - Michigan State defeated Utah, 8-5 on Friday evening in Surprise, Arizona behind a combined six RBIs from Jimmy Pickens and Blaise Salter. MSU held off a ninth inning comeback by Utah to improve to 3-1 on the season and pick up a win in its first game of the Aramark Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge.
The Spartans held an 8-3 lead heading into the top of the ninth, but the first three Utah batters of the inning reached safely to load the bases with nobody out.
Closer Jeff Kinley was called from the pen to face the heart of the Utes lineup. After retiring two of the first three hitters, Kinley walked the next two. With the tying run on first base and the bags full of Utes, Kinley struck out Konnor Armijo to end the game and escape the jam.
Kinley picked up his third save of the season, while starter Mick VanVossen improved to 2-0.
"Mick (VanVossen) grinded out there today," said head coach Jake Boss. "You don't want to end it the way we did with the walks and hit batters, but at the end of the day Cam (Vieaux) and Jeff (Kinley) are going to be very good for us. All in all it was a good win against a good ball club."
MSU got the bats going right out of the gates, putting up two runs in the first inning. After back-to-back singles from Cam Gibson and Ryan Richardson to start the game, Jimmy Pickens tripled to right center to give the Spartans a two-run lead.
The top of the order continued to produce the rest of the game, as seven of the 10 MSU hits on the evening came from the one through four hitters in the lineup.
"We need those guys to get on base and drive in runs and do some positive things for us and they did that today," said Boss. "We left a couple of runners out there we shouldn't have over the course of the game, but we had a chance to break it open in the middle of the game and we took advantage of some situations we were put in. We put ourselves in those positions by being aggressive and dictating the tempo of the game."
Utah responded with a three-run third inning to take the lead. With the bases loaded and no outs, Utah had a chance for a big inning, but MSU limited the damage by allowing just one more hit over the course of the inning.
The three runs were all VanVossen surrendered on the day, as the pitcher went six innings, allowed three runs on seven hits en route to his second win.
Salter put the Spartans back on top for good in the bottom of the fifth with a booming two-run homer to left field. It was Salter's first home run of the season.
"I thought offensively we played much better than we did last week," said Boss. "We started off with a couple of big hits and a big RBI from Jimmy Pickens and got another big one in the fifth with the homer from Salter. That allowed us to put some pressure on (Utah). We were able to go first-to-third a couple of times and those were big and allowed us to score some runs. "
MSU tacked on three more runs in the sixth inning to stretch its lead to four. Anthony Cheky got the inning started with an infield single. A misplayed pitchout followed by a stolen base allowed Cheky to score on a Justin Hovis groundout.
After Gibson and Richardson reached base, Pickens and Salter recorded back-to-back singles to bring them around while each picking up their third RBIs of the day.
VanVossen returned to the hill to start the seventh, but was replaced by Cam Vieaux after consecutive Utah singles. A sac bunt left runners on second and third with one out and the Utes threatening. Vieaux then retired the next two Utah batters to get MSU out of the jam and into the stretch with a 7-3 lead.
It was Cheky's legs again generating some offense in the bottom half of the seventh. After reaching on a bunt single, Cheky stole both second and third. The throw down to third went sailing into left field, allowing him to score an insurance run to make it 8-3.
Michigan State returns to action on Saturday as it resumes play in the Aramark Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge by taking on No. 3 Oregon State at 3 p.m. ET.