EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Alex Troop pitched a gem to boost Michigan State baseball to a 6-1 victory over No. 15 Michigan Thursday afternoon at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field in the opener of the pivotal three-game Big Ten Conference series.
MSU entered the weekend in ninth-place in the conference standings, fighting for a top eight spot to qualify for the B1G Tournament next weekend and Thursday’s win moves MSU to 10-12 in B1G play, 29-21 overall. Michigan had its four-game win streak snapped and slid to 40-13 overall and 14-8 in conference action. The series shifts to Ann Arbor for Friday’s game with a 6 p.m. first pitch before returning to East Lansing and McLane Stadium on Saturday with a 4:02 start time.
Troop, a sophomore left-hander, took a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh inning, chalking up 10 strikeouts while only allowing two hits, tying his career-highs for both Ks and hits allowed.
“Troop was huge for us today and that is what our number one needs to do for us. The no-hitter into the seventh was great. He didn’t have too many three-ball counts either in those first six innings. More importantly, he got deep into the game and was able to save the bullpen for another day. We’re in a situation right now where we have to take care of business, so the more bullets we have in the bullpen the better,” MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr., said.
The 10 K’s by Troop matches his career-best set earlier this season against Campbell on March 17, part of MSU’s season-high 19 strikeouts that game.
“Everything felt good today, can’t complain with how I pitched. The fastball, change-up and slider, everything felt great. Overall it was a good win for us today,” Troop said.
Thursday’s win was boosted by the impact of what was at stake in the conference standings, knowing that MSU needed to win in order to climb up in the race for the tournament spot.
“It makes you bring a lot of heart to the field and makes you pitch with a lot of motivation because we know of what we’ve worked for this entire year and where we want to go, and this is a game we needed to win to get there,” Troop said.
“It’s game one of a series in the Big Ten. It’s a big win and we need a couple of more. It’s good to beat your rival for sure,” Boss said. “There is a long way to go. We have two big games ahead of us, so we’ll enjoy this one for right now and we need to get ready to play tomorrow down in Ann Arbor.”
The win also had extra importance coming against rival Michigan.
“It’s fun no matter what, we could be 0-40 going into this game, but every time you play Michigan it’s a lot of fun, and that just makes it that much better that there’s a lot on the line for it today,” Troop said.
Troop’s pair of 10 strikeout outings gives the MSU pitching staff three individual double-digit games, joined by junior Jake Lowery’s 11 at Northwestern on April 28. Lowery is Friday’s game two starter. MSU finished with 12 Ks in Thursday’s game, as sophomore closer Riley McCauley pitched a three-up, three-down ninth inning, chalking up two strikeouts.
The Spartans’ outstanding pitching outing was backed by a solid hitting afternoon at the plate, rapping out nine hits, led by three players with two hits each, including home runs by each of the MSU corner position players.
Sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina and junior first baseman Zack McGuire belted solo home runs as part of each going 2-for-4, with McGuire scoring two runs. They were joined in the 2-for-4 club by freshman left fielder Bryce Kelley. Sophomore right fielder Dan Chmielewski was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, while junior center fielder Brandon Hughes and junior designated hitter Chad Roskelly were both 1-for-4, with Hughes’ tallying two RBI.
Hughes now has a 14-game hitting streak, the longest of the season by an MSU player, surpassing a 13-game streak by Kelley on April 28, but the freshman has a hit in the last 11 games since, giving him a hit in 24 of his last 25 games. Roskelly is right on Hughes’ heels with a 13-game streak of his own, part of hitting .420 (21-for-50) over those 13 games.
“We had a pretty good feeling at our pregame meal today and it seemed like everyone was locked in and focused. It was a quiet lunch which is good,” Boss said. “Anytime you have a quiet meal or a quiet bus ride on the way to the stadium I think it’s a good sign. Guys came with a business-like approach today.”
MSU erupted for four runs in the bottom of the second inning, with senior second baseman Dan Durkin sparking the rally with a leadoff walk. Two batters later, McGuire followed with a single to center, then Chmielewski singled to right to drive Durkin in from second. McGuire scored on a passed ball, then sophomore shortstop Royce Ando followed with a walk. Hughes followed with a popup to shallow left field that dropped in for a double after neither the Wolverines’ shortstop and left fielder couldn’t catch the wind-blown fly ball, allowing Chmielewski and Ando to score for the early 4-0 Spartan advantage.
“We talked about the wind before the game and that it would be important not to give up anything both offensively and defensively. It was a tough play and a high pop up that Hughes hit to left field and Royce Ando did exactly what we talked about and ran hard with two outs. He very easily could have coasted into third base, but he kept running hard and was able to score and that was a big momentum play for us,” Boss said.
The momentum kept rolling in the fourth when Bechina belted a home run, his seventh round-tripper of the season, but first since March 26. Bechina is hitting .430 (13-for-30) over his last eight games.
Troop’s perfect game was halted in the sixth on an MSU fielding error, and the no-hitter was broken up by Johnny Slater to lead off the seventh. After no hits in the first six innings, the Wolverines had back-to-back base hits as Michael Brdar followed with a single up the middle. Both Slater and Brdar moved up on a groundout to second by Drew Lugbauer, and Slater was driven in on a sacrifice fly by Miles Lewis, halting Michigan’s hits and runs for the game.
Michigan State had two hits in the bottom of the seventh, on consecutive singles by Kelley and Roskelly, but the rally fizzled.
After two outs in the home half of the eighth, McGuire smacked his opposite field home run down the right field line and into the Red Cedar River beyond the right field fence. It was also McGuire’s seventh home run of the season, as McGuire and Bechina remain second on the team in homers, trailing Durkin’s eight.
McCauley came on in the ninth, and slammed the door with a three-up, three-down inning, capping the game with a strikeout to spark the celebration.
Saturday’s game at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field is MSU’s Senior Day, as the Spartan Senior Seven: Walter Borkovich, Josh Buchalski, Matt Byars, Dan Durkin, Taylor Grace, Joe Mockbee and manager Gabe Jasinski, will be honored in a pre-game ceremony.
Fans should stay tuned to www.MSUSpartans.com or follow MSU Baseball on twitter at statebaseball for any schedule and location updates.