LINCOLN, Neb. -- Michigan State baseball was nipped by Nebraska, 8-7, Sunday afternoon at Hawks Field in the finale of the three-game Big Ten Conference series. With Sunday’s win, the Huskers won the series, two games to one.
Sunday’s loss slides MSU to 27-21 on the season overall and 9-12 in B1G play. The Spartans won the opener, 6-3, before dropping Saturday’s game, 5-2. Nebraska improved to a 32-17-1 overall and 14-6-1 B1G mark, remaining in first place in the league standings. Nebraska entered the weekend ranked No. 25 in the Baseball America Top 25, as well as No. 26 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. The Huskers were also among others receiving votes in both the USA Today Coaches and the NCBWA polls.
Senior catcher Matt Byars led MSU’s offensive attack with three of the Spartans’ 15 hits on the day. Byars was 3-for-5 with two runs scored and one RBI. Senior second baseman Dan Durkin was 2-for-4 with a solo home run, that was the second half of back-to-back bombs, following junior designated hitter Chad Roskelly, who was 1-for-4. Junior centerfielder Brandon Hughes and freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley were both 2-for-5, while sophomore right fielder Dan Chmielewski was 2-for-4 with a run scored. Junior first baseman Zack McGuire was 1-for-3 with two RBI and one run scored.
“I’m proud of my guys. They competed and played hard today. We got out-executed a little bit, I think. We pride ourselves on three things: discipline, passion and details. I thought we were very disciplined all weekend, I thought we played with great passion and the detail part was a little bit lacking today and that cost us in another one-run game,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said.
Hughes also had a stolen base, giving him 27 for the season, tying Steve Preston for No. 2 on MSU’s single-season stolen bases list. Preston swiped 27 in 1988. Anthony Cheky holds the school record with 29 stolen bases in 2014.
MSU was down 3-1 after two innings, but bounced back with a four-run third inning, sparked by Roskelly and Durkin’s back-to-back home runs.
“Our guys have competed hard all year and they continue to do that from the first pitch to the last, and that was no different today and it will be no different Tuesday, and no different next weekend,” Boss said. “It’s a great group of kids and I really feel for them because we end of losing the series, but I’m really proud of the way that they played all weekend.”
Nebraska got on the board early with a run in the home half of the opening frame, but the Spartans’ deficit didn’t last long as they scored in the top of the second, and did it in similar fashion as their runs in Saturday’s game. McGuire reached on an error and later came around to score on an RBI single by sophomore shortstop Royce Ando to tie the game at 1-1.
The tie lasted as long as MSU trailed, as the Huskers plated two in the bottom of the second, stringing together four hits, chasing Spartan starter Ethan Landon. Senior reliever Joe Mockbee got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout, leaving the bases full and keeping the score 3-1 in the Huskers’ favor.
Michigan State erupted to hang four on the board in the top of the third, as Roskelly led off with a home run and on the very next pitch, Durkin followed with a homer of his own to complete the back-to-back round-trippers, both to left field. Byars then smacked the first pitch he saw to the gap in left center for a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by McGuire. Chmielewski then doubled to left center and was plated by an RBI single by Ando for a 5-3 Spartan advantage.
Kelley sparked the Spartan rally in the fifth with a single and later scored on an RBI single by Byars as MSU took a 6-3 lead.
Nebraska tied it with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, with the big blow coming on a two-run double by Scott Schrieber. The Huskers took an 8-6 lead in the sixth on a pair of runs.
MSU got a run back in the top of the seventh as Byars led off with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. McGuire later belted an RBI double down the left field line to drive in Byars and pull MSU within 8-7.
Sophomore reliever Riley McCauley came on and put the clamps on the Huskers, striking out five in 2.0 IP, his longest outing of the season and second-longest of his career.
The Spartans threatened in the top of the ninth, with Durkin leading off with a single, however was wiped out with a double play. Sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina then blasted a deep shot to left that Nebraska left fielder Mojo Hagge lept and caught, robbing Bechina of a game-tying home run and ending the game.
Michigan State plays another in-state foe on Tuesday, May 16 at Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant. The Spartans wrap-up regular-season action with the three-game series against in-state rival Michigan, opening on Thursday, May 18 at 4:05 p.m. at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field, then to Ann Arbor on Friday, May 19 at 6 p.m., before the series and regular-season finale on Saturday, May 20 at 1:05 p.m.
Fans should stay tuned to www.MSUSpartans.com or follow MSU Baseball on twitter at statebaseball for any schedule and location updates.