May 23, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Senior co-captain Tony Bucciferro allowed just two runs and struck out five in eight innings to lead the Michigan State baseball team past Nebraska, 10-9, in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament Wednesday afternoon at Huntington Park.
But it took a spectacular game-saving catch by second baseman Ryan Jones to seal the victory.
Michigan State (36-19) collected 17 hits and appeared to have the game in hand with a 10-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but Nebraska (34-22) rallied for seven runs in its final at-bat.
With two outs and the game-tying run on third base, Husker leadoff batter Pat Kelly hit a line shot to Jones, who leaped and snagged the apparent base hit for the final out of the game.
"I was shifting a little bit toward the four hole just in case (Kelly) did reach out on something off speed," said Jones. "He hit it pretty well, and I timed it pretty good and it went in my glove. I had it right at the peak when I caught it."
"They hit the ball hard, but they hit it at our best defender," said MSU head coach Jake Boss. "When it was hit - and he hit it hard - we obviously didn't know (Jones caught it) until it landed in the glove. I'm glad that Ryan can get up a little bit. He was a pretty good basketball player in high school, so it helped."
Up until the ninth, the Spartans were in complete control.
Although Nebraska took an early 1-0 lead in the second, MSU bounced right back in the top of the third with two runs on RBI singles by Jones and Jordan Keur.
The Huskers tied it at 2 in the bottom half of the third, but the Spartans scored runs in the next four innings to take a commanding 10-2 lead.
A sacrifice fly by Blaise Salter in the fourth made it 3-2 in favor of MSU, and Keur's first homer of the season - a solo shot to left field in the fifth - put the Spartans up 4-2.
Michigan State broke the game open with five runs on five hits in the sixth inning. Justin Scanlon starting the scoring by delivering a bases-loaded, two-run single to plate Joel Fisher and Anthony Cheky. With two outs and a base open, Nebraska elected to intentionally walk Torsten Boss, but John Martinez made the Huskers pay with a single up the middle that brought home two runs. Ryan Krill followed with an RBI single, giving MSU a 9-2 advantage.
"We've been waiting for that inning for a long time," said Boss on the Spartan five-run sixth. "The way the game ended, I think it's a good reminder for our guys that every at-bat is critical in a tournament situation. Every opportunity you have is crucial."
Meanwhile, Bucciferro kept the Husker offense - which entered the game ranked in the top 10 in the nation in four categories - off the scoreboard for the rest of his time on the mound. He was drilled with a liner off his foot in the seventh inning, but stayed in the game, and exited after eight innings and 103 pitches. He set an MSU record for most innings pitched in a season in the process; he has currently thrown 106 innings this spring (previous record: Kurt Wunderlich, 101.2 in 2011).
"That's my job, to take us deep into games," said Bucciferro, who improved to 6-3 on the season. "I was able to execute my pitches. Getting the run support really took a lot of pressure off me."
A Jones sacrifice fly in the seventh pushed the MSU lead to 10-2 - and proved to be the difference in the game.
The Husker ninth started out innocently enough with a groundout, but things quickly escalated following two straight walks. A flyout to left then put MSU just one out away from the win; however, the next six Nebraska batters would reach base on a single, double, two hit by pitches, a walk, and finally a bases-clearing double by Kale Kiser off of closer Tony Wieber that cut the lead to 10-9.
That set the stage for Jones' last-out defensive heroics.
"I didn't see Jones' catch - I had my head in my hands," said Bucciferro. "I was pretty nervous, but I knew our guys would end up coming through. It was a good win, no matter how you do it."
Wieber did earn the save - his ninth of the year - for recording the last out, which now ties him with Domanick Squires for second most in a MSU season.
"Not a pretty ninth, but we still walk out with a win," said Boss. "That's how we have to look at it."
"You just have to forget the ninth," he said. "You have to look at the positives and toss out the negatives. We played a good ballgame until that. We'll take the win and move on."
The win also gave the senior class of 2012 its 129th win in the past four years, which is the most by any senior class in the history of the Spartan program.
Six Spartans had multi-hit games, led by Fisher and Cheky, who each had four. Scanlon, Keur and Martinez also collected two hits apiece.
"We got a lot of production out of the entire lineup," said Boss. "If we can turn the bottom of the order over like that and get those guys on base for our guys at the top, I think we have a pretty good chance to win."
With sixth-seeded Ohio State's 12-5 win over third-seeded Penn State, Michigan State will play second-seeded Indiana (30-26, 16-8) in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at 3:35 p.m. The Spartans took two of three from the Hoosiers in Bloomington in mid-April.