GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Sophomore shortstop Royce Ando was a spark both with his bat and his glove, boosting Michigan State baseball to a 6-1 win over UT Martin Sunday afternoon at Fluor Field as the Spartans swept their three games of the First Pitch Invitational.
“Any win is a good win and UT Martin is a very well-coached. I thought we took advantage of a couple opportunities, but I thought overall, a little disappointed in our offensive effort. We had a lot more opportunities to score, especially early but weren’t able to do that,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., said.
MSU rapped out nine hits, but left 12 runners on. The Spartans had three extra base hits.
“On the other side of it, I thought Andrew Gonzalez was really, really good on the mound today and we were waiting to see that out of him this year, so was good to see him settle into it today. The bullpen again was outstanding and overall on the mound it was a very good day. I thought Royce Ando played extremely well defensively, so anytime if your offense isn’t going well, you need to pitch and defend well, and I thought we did that today,” Boss said.
Ando was 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored at the plate, while in the field, he logged 11 assists and one putout, including all three outs in the fifth, making leather-flashing plays for the first and third outs of the frame. He also turned a 6-3 double play in the bottom of the ninth.
“Royce had big double to drive in a run early and more importantly for us, defensively he was really, really good and made every play, including a couple outstanding plays going up the middle. He’s just a guy that anchored our defense today and we needed someone to. We weren’t in a position to give away any free outs and he was able to not only make the routine play but also some others that weren’t so routine,” Boss said.
With the win, the Spartans swept their three games in the First Pitch Invitational, and joined the four-game season-opening series at Abilene Christian as the second weekend series sweep this season.
“When we go into a weekend, we always talk about winning game one to set yourself up for winning the series, so we look at this as a sweep and sweeps are tough to come by, regardless of who you’re playing or where you’re playing. It’s not easy to sweep a series and I feel good that we were able to that for the second time this season,” Boss said.
With the win, MSU improves to 9-1 for the second-straight year and tying for the second-best start to a season through 10 games. In addition to this season and last year, MSU was also 9-1 through 10 games in 1971, while the best mark in school history was the 1946 squad that went undefeated through its first 10 games.
“It feels good, you always want to come out and win every game you play, obviously, more importantly we want to play well. I’m a little disappointed in how we played today, and I certainly think we’re more than capable of playing better, but at the same time, when you don’t play well and you still win, I think it’s a good sign. That was the message after the game, and that the best is still ahead of us. I think this is a very talented team that is able to win even when we maybe don’t play our best,” Boss said.
UT Martin slides to 5-4 with the loss, as the Skyhawks lost all three of their weekend games. Sunday was the first-ever meeting between MSU and UTM.
Junior starter Andrew Gonzalez went 5.2 innings, scattering four hits while striking out three and allowing just one run. The Spartan bullpen again was solid, going 3.1 innings, allowing just two hits and no runs, while striking out four.
The Spartans plated a run in the top of the second on an RBI double by Ando, driving in freshman right fielder Bryce Kelley, who made his first collegiate start, and walked and stole second in his first at bat of the game.
MSU added another run in the third as Bechina led off by getting hit by a pitch. He then stole second and third, and later came in on a fielder’s choice RBI by junior centerfielder Brandon Hughes.
After Michigan State loaded the bases with one out but didn’t score in the top of the fourth, UT Martin got on the board in the bottom of the frame. The Skyhawks got a two-out double to left center from Creighton Eldridge followed by a single to left center by Keylen Steen to score Eldridge and cut the Spartan advantage in half at 2-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, UT Martin hit three balls in the area of Ando, two that he made spectacular plays on sandwiched around a routine groundout for a quick, three-up, three-down inning.
The Spartans added a pair of runs in the top of the sixth on a Durkin two-run opposite field home run to the top of the Green Monster in left field. MSU tacked on two in the top of the ninth on a Bechina single, followed by a double to left center by junior first baseman Zack McGuire. A single by junior designated hitter Chad Roskelly plated Bechina and Kelley later drew a bases-loaded walk to bring in McGuire for the final scoring of the 6-1 victory for MSU.
“We’ve had a good weekend, now we’ll have two good days of practice and get ready for a very good Clemson team on Wednesday night,” Boss said.
Michigan State will remain in Greenville and play No. 15 Clemson on Wednesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. at Fluor Field.