GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Michigan State baseball swept a doubleheader with Fresno State, 10-4 and 9-5, Saturday at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. The Spartans had to relocate this weekend's games because of wet field conditions at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field due to the Red Cedar River overflowing its banks throughout the MSU campus.
Fortunately, the Spartans were able to move the three games to Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Detroit Tigers affiliate.
"It's a great park and beautiful surface. It's a bit of a taste of hopefully what a lot of guys will experience in a few years in pro baseball. We had a couple of former Spartans that played here last night in Blaise Salter and Cam Gibson for Grand Rapids and Dakota Mekkes for South Bend. Anytime we get to play in a nice park like this it's a lot of fun. I think we'd rather be playing at home, but you can only control so many things. This is a great option for us and the folks of the Whitecaps organization have just been tremendous and very accommodating for us," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., said.
The Spartans quickly got comfortable in their temporary digs, and rapped out a combined 28 hits on the day to go with stellar pitching on the mound. Saturday's wins snapped a five-game losing skein for the Spartans, who improved to 17-10 with the pair of wins.
"It was a big day to get back on track. We had a very good program coming in here in Fresno State. We were scuffling a little bit. We're still not there yet, there's certainly some things we could do better, particularly in game two. In total, you look at the day and you put up a couple big numbers and the guys are hitting the ball hard. While we missed a few opportunities, but at the same time, we took advantage of a lot of opportunities that we had, so it was a good day for sure," Boss said.
Fresno State slid to 16-14 with the loss. Saturday was the first-ever regular-season meeting between the Spartans and Bulldogs, who had only ever met once before in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina and junior centerfielder Brandon Hughes were both 5-for-10 on the day, with Bechina driving in four and knocking two doubles. Hughes had one double and three RBI. Senior catcher Matt Byars joined them in hitting .500 for the day, going 4-for-8 with four RBI with one double and a home run, a solo shot to left center to lead off the fifth inning of game one for MSU's first run of the day. Junior first baseman Zack McGuire also belted a home run, a two-run blast to off the old-fashioned scoreboard in left field.
In addition to the solid hitting, the Spartans had solid pitching efforts, as sophomore left-hander Alex Troop went 8.0 innings with seven strikeouts while allowing just one run on four hits. In the second game junior righty Ethan Landon went 7.1 innings with six strikeouts, both season-highs, while scattering five runs on eight hits. After senior reliever Joe Mockbee pitched a third of an inning in the eighth, sophomore closer Riley McCauley came on with two outs and the bases loaded and got a four-out save, his team-leading sixth of the season.
"With our bullpen fully stocked, if our starters can get deep into games then that's only a bonus for us. I thought both of those guys pitched really, really well today. We have some luxuries with our depth of our bullpen that we can afford to go match-ups and really shorten the game. When those guys were able to get deep into the game and were rolling, like when Ethan retired 13 in a row there after the fourth inning on, he was just in command the whole way, as was Alex. It's very important in a three-game series for the bullpen to be fully stocked and ready to go for tomorrow," Boss said.
The Spartans and Bulldogs will wrap up their three-game series on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids.
MSU tried to get a rally going in the home half of the first of the opener, after a leadoff single by freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley and later a double by senior second baseman Dan Durkin, but the rally fizzled.
The visiting Bulldogs got on the board first with a run in the top of the fourth.
Byars led off the fifth with his round-tripper to left center to fully ignite the Spartans' hit parade. McGuire followed with a single. Hughes later laced a two-run double to left center as MSU plated four in the frame for a 4-1 lead.
The Spartans blew the game open in the sixth with four runs, getting RBI singles from both Bechina and Hughes.
MSU tacked on a run in each of the seventh and eighth innings for a 10-1 lead, before Fresno State closed to 10-4 with three unearned runs, all with two outs, in the ninth off freshman reliever Sam Benschoter, making just his third appearance of the season, ending the game with a strikeout.
Michigan State continued the hot hitting in the second game, getting on the board in the home half of the first. Kelley led off the game with a single and later scored on an RBI single by Bechina. The Spartans added four more in the second, two coming on Byars' blast, then an RBI double from Bechina and an RBI single by Durkin for a 5-0 lead after two innings.
Fresno State countered with four runs of its own in the third, getting a two-run single by Aaron Arruda, who later advanced to second on a wild pitch. The next batter, Jake Stone laced a single to left and Arruda scampered around third and tried to score, but the relay throw from Kelley in left to the cutoff man Bechina to Byars at the plate were perfectly executed to nab Arruda at the plate to end the inning and keep the score 5-4.
MSU added some breathing room with two runs in the bottom of the third on McGuire's moonshot to left.
Both pitchers then settled in, before the Spartans eventually chased Bulldogs' starter Rickey Ramirez in the seventh. Hughes welcomed reliever Adam Medrano to the game with a single and Hughes later scored on an RBI single by Byars for an 8-4 MSU lead.
Landon had retired 13 batters in a row from the fourth through the seventh innings, getting the leadoff hitter out in the eighth, before Jesse Medrano laced a single and Boss went to the Spartans' bullpen to bring in Mockbee for the match-up. The Bulldogs strung together two hits to plate a run around a strikeout, before McCauley came on in another match-up with two outs and the bases loaded, and got Austin Guibor to popup to Byars in foul territory behind the plate and thwart the threat and end the inning.
The Spartans added a run in the eighth for the final 9-5 score.
Fans who can't make it to Grand Rapids for Sunday's finale can follow the action with live links at www.MSUSpartans.com.
Additionally, fans should stay tuned to www.MSUSpartans.com or follow MSU Baseball on twitter at statebaseball for any schedule updates.