May 8, 2012
KALAMAZOO, Mich. - The Michigan State baseball team won its 30th game of the season with a 15-7 victory over Western Michigan Tuesday afternoon at Robert J. Bobb Stadium.
After winning 34 games in 2010 and 36 last year, it marks the first time in program history the Spartans have recorded three straight 30-win seasons.
Perhaps more importantly, it keeps MSU's hopes alive for a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans (30-16) are well within range of a bid after moving up seven spots to No. 44 in this week's NCAA RPI rankings.
One of the keys has been success during midweek games, as Michigan State is now 8-1 outside of weekend series in 2012.
"Our seniors have taken a lot of ownership," said Spartan head coach Jake Boss. "(Captain) Justin Scanlon in particular was telling the guys what an important day this was in the grand scheme of things for our program and if we want to keep playing. You want to get it to a point where the guys do take ownership of it. Hopefully we're there, and hopefully that continues tomorrow."
MSU collected 15 hits on Tuesday and tied a season high with six doubles. Junior John Martinez led the way by producing career highs in hits (4), RBIs (4) and doubles (2); he went 4-for-4 overall with two walks and also scored twice.
In addition, freshman center fielder Anthony Cheky had a season-high three hits with three runs.
"Offensively it was a good day," said Boss. "We hit a lot of balls hard. John Martinez, Anthony Cheky and Ryan Jones were all very productive at the plate, and we took advantage of almost every scoring opportunity we had."
The game was a slugfest the first five innings, as the two teams combined for 22 hits while Michigan State clung to a 9-7 lead.
The Spartans struck early with three runs in the first, keyed by RBI doubles from Jordan Keur and Martinez. Jones, who went 3-for-6 with two doubles, connected on a run-scoring double in the second to make it 4-0. Jones now has 41 career doubles, which moved him into fifth place in MSU history.
Western Michigan bounced back in the bottom of the third and tied it with four runs on five hits.
Jones then hit his second RBI double in the fourth, followed by a Torsten Boss RBI single, to put MSU back on top, 6-4. The Broncos trimmed the lead to 6-5 with a run in the bottom half of the inning, but once again, the Spartans extended their advantage by scoring three times in the top of the fifth. Blaise Salter delivered the big hit in the inning, crushing a two-run double to left-center.
The Broncos (20-25) continued the back-and-forth affair with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to make it 9-7, but it's all they would get the rest of way.
Senior reliever Bryce Jenney entered the game with runners on first and third and no outs in the fifth, and although an unearned run would score, Jenney got out of the jam with a strikeout and two foul popouts to first base.
From there, Jenney was in complete control.
He closed the game without allowing a run and only gave up two hits. The Northville, Mich., product was credited with a five-inning save, his first of the season.
"The guys behind me played great," said Jenney. "We were back and forth all game - it was like a tennis match there for a bit. It was big to come in and shut it down, and the guys scored more runs, which took the pressure off of me.
"These games are extremely important, especially when you're trying to make an NCAA Regional. These become the games that make or break the season in regards to an at-large bid."
"Bryce was outstanding," Boss said. "It was a little disappointing the way the game started out for us on the mound, but I think you have to credit Western Michigan too because they really compete and swung the bat well. Bryce came in and settled the ship for us, and was really good the rest of the way.
"We've been pitching it so well, so our guys in the bullpen have been itching to get out there. And Bryce was one of them. He hasn't thrown much in the past two weeks just because our starters have gone so deep into the game. That's what you want out of guys - when they're given an opportunity, they take advantage of it."
Meanwhile, the Spartan offense padded their lead with single runs in the sixth and seventh, and finished out with a four-run ninth to put the final at 15-7.
In the ninth, following two Bronco errors, Martinez came through with his fourth hit of the game, an RBI double to left field. Martinez's two-out hit brought up Jared Hook, who grew up in nearby Portage.
With several friends and family in attendance, Hook sailed a 2-1 pitch over the 335-foot right-field fence for a three-run homer, prompting a smile after he rounded third and greeted his teammates at home.
"That homer did feel really good - I was rounding third and Coach Boss had this huge grin on his face, and that just put an even bigger smile on my face," said Hook. "Luckily I got it up in the wind and it took it over that fence."
"It was a neat moment for Jared, and it also was a big moment in the game," Boss said. "We had a lead, but you can never have enough runs. He hit that ball hard, he hit it a long way, and it was in front of his hometown fans."
Although Trey Popp allowed eight hits and three runs, two earned, in his two innings of work, he earned his third victory of the season out of the bullpen. Popp entered the game in the third to relieve starter Mike Theodore (2.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R).
Michigan State returns to action Wednesday to host Toledo at 3:05 p.m. at McLane Baseball Stadium.