EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State baseball jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and hung on to beat Ohio State, 6-5, Saturday afternoon at the sunbathed McLane Stadium at Kobs Field in front of a season-high 2,201 fans on Military Appreciation Day.
The Spartans wore black uniforms with camouflage lettering and numbers, and had three veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Throughout the game, veterans of the military were recognized and honored, and after the game, the team had a meet-and-greet with the veterans, posing for photos and signing autographs.
The win not only clinches the three-game Big Ten Conference series for the Spartans after Friday's 2-0 win, but it was their 20th win of the season. Michigan State has won at least 20 games in all nine seasons under head coach Jake Boss Jr., and is the 21st-straight 20-win season in school history, as MSU improves to 20-11 on the season overall and moved its B1G ledger to 5-3. Ohio State has now lost four in a row and is 14-21 overall and 3-8 in league play.
"These are two big wins. It's a series win and it's important to win a series at home; we haven't played great at home this year. We have another big day tomorrow, they're all big at this point of the season, and we still have a long way to go in the Big Ten season, but we're trying to get on a little bit of a roll here," Boss said.
Saturday's series-clinching win gives MSU its first series win over OSU since 2013. The Buckeyes are making their first visit to East Lansing since 2012, and the Spartans now have won the last four match-ups over their visitors from Columbus, as part of five of the last six at home over Ohio State.
Michigan State and Ohio State wrap up their three-game weekend series on Sunday, with a 1:05 p.m. start time.
MSU's pitching staff chalked up 14 strikeouts Saturday after 12 in Friday's win, as the Spartans posted their 10th game this season with double-digit strikeouts. The 14 Ks is the second-highest of the season behind 19 on March 17 vs. Campbell. It is the third time this season that the Spartan hurlers have chalked up double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games, but first in B1G action.
Senior reliever Joe Mockbee got the win, pitching 3.0 innings of relief and ringing up six strikeouts, his second-highest outing of the season. Mockbee came on after fellow senior reliever Walter Borkovich went 2.2 innings, scattering three hits while striking out two.
"Mockbee was great today and I thought Borkovich threw really well today as the first guy out of the pen. Joe does what Joe does. His breaking ball was outstanding today and really tough on left-handed hitters. Joe was really, really good today," Boss said.
Sophomore closer Riley McCauley pitched the last 1.1 innings, tallying three Ks to pick up the save, his seventh of the season, and moving into a six-way logjam tie for eighth on MSU's single-season saves list, most recently accomplished by McCauley's former teammate Dakota Mekkes last year. McCauley had to work for his save, allowing a leadoff home run and yielding a double and a walk, but thwarted the threat with a strikeout to end the game.
"Riley is our closer. He wasn't sharp today, but like we talked about with our guys after the game that it's a good lesson. He didn't have his best stuff but he is as fierce of a competitor as we have and he competed his tail off out there today without his best stuff, and he figured out a way to get it done," Boss said.
The Spartans won despite getting out-hit 12-8 Saturday.
"I thought we were really good at the plate yesterday and only scored two runs, and we were not very good today in my opinion and we scored six and that's why this is such a beautiful game. We struck out 13 times today, but still scored six runs. I think with our pitching staff, if we can score six runs, we should win most of our games," Boss said.
Junior first baseman Zack McGuire belted a three-run home run in the first inning, and sophomore right fielder Dan Chmielewski smacked a two-run homer in the sixth for MSU's runs. Chmielewski was the only Spartan with multiple hits, going 2-for-3 with the two RBI.
In the home half of the first with two outs, senior second baseman Dan Durkin hit a linedrive comebacker that hit Ohio State pitcher Jake Post and Post left the game, and was replaced by Ryan Feltner.
Senior catcher Matt Byars laced a single up the middle to drive in Durkin for MSU's first run of the day. Sophomore designated hitter Alex Troop followed with an single to right, then McGuire smacked a three-run home run to right center for a 4-0 Spartan advantage.
The shutout didn't last long as Ohio State strung together a single and stolen base by Dominic Canzone and he was driven in on an RBI double by Bo Coolen. Two batters later, Coolen scored after trading places with Conner Pohl on a double for OSU's second run of the frame to pull the visitor's within 4-2.
OSU closed to 4-3 in the top of the third, as Tre' Gantt singled, then stole second and third, and later scored on an RBI groundout by Noah McGowan. The damage could have been more, but senior relief pitcher Walter Borkovich picked off one Buckeye for the first out of the frame, and added his second of the day in the fifth, keeping the score 4-3.
The score remained 4-3 until the bottom of the sixth when sophomore shortstop Royce Ando laced a two-out single to left. The next batter was Chmielewski and he belted a two-run home run deep into the trees beyond the left field fence for a 6-3 advantage.
MSU's three-run lead was short-lived as OSU got one back in the top of the seventh on a solo shot to right by Canzone to pull within, 6-4.
The Buckeyes got to 6-5 in the top of the ninth on a leadoff home run by Jalen Washington and Gantt followed with a double to left center. McCauley then struck out the next two Buckeyes, before Canzone walked after a lengthy, multiple pitch battle. With the drama and anxiety high, McCauley struck out Brady Cherry to end the game with the 6-5 victory for MSU.
After Sunday's series finale, Michigan State will be on the road for all four games next week, opening with a trip to Ann Arbor to play Michigan on Tuesday, May 18 in a non-conference midweek contest. The Spartans resume B1G action with a trip to College Park, Md., to take on league preseason favorite Maryland in a three-game weekend series April 21-23. MSU returns home to host Toledo on Wednesday, April 26 at 3:05 p.m. at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field.
Fans should stay tuned to www.MSUSpartans.com or follow MSU Baseball on twitter at statebaseball for any schedule and location updates.