Spartans Open 2012 Season at Big Ten/Big East Challenge
Feb. 15, 2012
SPARTANS OPEN 2012 SEASON AT BIG TEN/BIG EAST CHALLENGE
The Spartans, fresh off winning their first Big Ten regular-season title in 32 years last spring, were selected as the 2012 Big Ten preseason favorite in a poll released earlier this week by the conference coaches. MSU went 36-21 overall in 2011, tying for the third-most wins in school history, and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game for the first time since 1992. This season, the Spartans return 25 letterwinners, including six starters, and are looking to repeat as Big Ten Champions for the first time ever and earn a berth in an NCAA Regional.
"We're excited to get going this weekend," said fourth-year head coach Jake Boss, who was named the 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year. "It's a tough schedule right out of the shoot for us. We have St. John's on Friday, a team in the top 25 with a potential first-rounder (Kyle Hansen) going against us on the mound, so that should be a stiff challenge. Saturday we have South Florida, another good program in the Big East. Then on Sunday, (we play) Louisville, who was in the World Series a few years ago, and a preseason top 25 team.
"We've been outside more at this point than we ever have been. I think our guys are ready; it's a difficult schedule, not only this weekend but in the weekends to follow. I'm excited to see what this team can do. We've got a good mix of returning guys combined with some youth. We've got a lot of unknowns right now, but at the same time a lot of young talent."
"The concept (of the challenge) is great," Boss said. "The chance to play against some northern schools right out of the gate always kind of levels the playing field...The way that it's been paired up, having the top three teams of each conference play has been pretty even."
2) PRESEASON FAVORITES: In a vote by the conference coaches, Michigan State was selected as the 2012 preseason favorite in the Big Ten, followed by Purdue and Minnesota . . . Michigan State has won four Big Ten regular-season titles in school history (1954, 1971, 1979, 2011) but has never repeated as conference champs . . . Michigan State won its fourth Big Ten title and first since 1979 with a 15-9 record in 2011, sharing the regular-season crown with Illinois . . . MSU was in first place wire-to-wire in the Big Ten standings.
"I think that this team still has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, which is good," said Boss on if the team feels any pressure to repeat as conference champs. "The fact that we had some success last year - we had a great fall being able to present our kids rings and things like that - was really important for this program obviously, but at the same time, we weren't able to compete in the NCAA Tournament, which I think is something that means a lot to our guys.
"Watching Illinois (last year) going through the (Big Ten) tournament and celebrating on the field at the end in Columbus was something that really stuck with our guys. Seeing the success that Illinois had, and the way they represented the Big Ten in such a positive way in the NCAA Tournament last year showed our guys that we're good enough to compete with anybody."
3) WATCH ME: Michigan State landed a school-record six players on the All-Big Ten First Team last year, and three are back for the Spartans in 2012: senior right-handed pitcher Tony Bucciferro, junior center fielder Torsten Boss and junior second baseman Ryan Jones. All three were named "Players to Watch" by the Big Ten coaches. In addition, the Spartans return third-team selections Tony Wieber (relief pitcher) and Jared Hook (designated hitter), along with All-Freshman Team picks David Garner (pitcher) and Joel Fisher (catcher).
4) HARD TO REPLACE: Although Boss, Bucciferro and Jones return to the lineup, Michigan State has the difficult task of replacing the other three All-Big Ten first-team selections from a year ago. First baseman Jeff Holm was named the 2011 Big Ten Player of the Year and a third-team All-American after batting .376 with nine homers and 61 RBIs; Kurt Wunderlich became the first Spartan to be earn Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors as he led the league with 10 wins and set a school record with 101.2 innings pitched; and Brandon Eckerle set MSU career and single-season records for hits and was just the second Spartan to win the overall Big Ten batting title. Holm (12th round, Detroit), Wunderlich (20th round, Oakland) and Eckerle (32nd round, Detroit) were all chosen in the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last June.
5) YOUTH IS SERVED: While MSU's three All-Big Ten seniors were taken in the MLB Draft, four incoming Spartan freshmen also heard their names called in June, but elected to attend Michigan State University. First baseman/catcher Blaise Salter (38th round, Detroit), first baseman Ryan Krill (40th round, Detroit), outfielder/catcher Jimmy Pickens (41st round, Detroit) and right-handed pitcher Mick VanVossen (49th round, Texas) are members of a nine-man recruiting class that will see significant playing time this spring. In fact, three freshmen will get their first career starts on Friday against St. John's, as Krill will start at first base, Pickens in right field, and Kevin Goergen at third base.
"I don't remember ever starting three freshmen before," said Boss. "I thought last year we were going to be pretty young, starting a lot of freshmen and sophomores. I've had a feeling that there were some young guys last year that were going to be pretty good, and they were. And now this year, running three freshmen out again, there are some unknowns there, but at the same time they're very talented kids."
6) SWITCHING THINGS UP: Junior Torsten Boss has been an All-Big Ten performer his first two seasons at third base, but with the opening at center field due to the departure of four-year starter Brandon Eckerle, Boss will move to the outfield this season for the Spartans.
Boss, who has started 76 games at third base, was a second-team All-Big Ten choice in 2010 and a first-team all-league selection in 2011. Entering his junior year, Boss has a career average of .358 with 13 homers and 100 RBIs, which landed him on Louisville Slugger's Preseason All-American Third Team.
"I think it let's him be a little more athletic out there," head coach Jake Boss remarked on the position change.
7) OPENING DAY STARTER: Senior right-hander Tony Bucciferro, a 2011 first-team All-Big Ten selection, will get the call on the mound for the Spartans on Opening Day against St. John's. Bucciferro, who will be entering his fourth season in the conference starting rotation, was voted a co-captain by his teammates for the 2012 season. He ranks among MSU's career leaders in innings pitched (fifth with 261.0), strikeouts (seventh with 179) and wins (seventh with 20), and has only walked 45 batters in 261.0 innings pitched.
Bucciferro was named to the 25-man Cape Cod All-League Team after an impressive summer season pitching for the Brewster Whitecaps. He ranked fourth in the Cape Cod League with a 1.90 ERA, tied for eighth with 37 strikeouts, and only walked eight in 47.1 innings pitched. He was also named to the all-star team and pitched a scoreless inning during the all-star game on July 29 at Fenway Park.
As the No. 2 starter in the rotation in 2011, Bucciferro collected an 8-3 record with a 3.38 ERA. He ranked among the Big Ten leaders in wins (tied for second with 8), strikeouts (third with 66), starts (tied for third with 15), innings pitched (fourth with 101.1) and opposing batting average (seventh at .258) , and his 101.1 innings pitched were the second most in a MSU season.
8) FAMILIAR FACES: Michigan State returns six starters to its lineup in 2012: sophomore catcher Joel Fisher, junior second baseman Ryan Jones, senior shortstop Justin Scanlon, junior left fielder Jordan Keur, junior designated hitter Jared Hook, and junior Torsten Boss, who is moving from third base to center field. On the mound, MSU welcomes back three starters with weekend experience (senior Tony Bucciferro, junior Andrew Waszak, sophomore David Garner), along with midweek starter Chase Rihtarchik. In the bullpen, nine letterwinners return, including junior closer Tony Wieber, seniors Bryce Jenney and Tim Simpson, and junior lefties Ryan Martin and Trey Popp.
9) WHAT NEW BATS?: Despite the new BBCOR bat standards that were put in place last season, MSU ranked seventh in the nation and first in the Big Ten with a .318 team batting average in 2011 . . . The Spartans finished conference games with a league-best .318 average, marking the first time since 1984 that the Spartans finished as conference stat champions in batting . . . MSU featured the top three hitters in the Big Ten (Brandon Eckerle first at .379; Jeff Holm second at .376; Torsten Boss third at .370) and five of the top 12 (Ryan Jones 11th at .344; Jared Hook tied for 12th at .341) are in MSU's lineup . . . The Spartans featured six starters in their lineup with an average over .300.
OFF THE BENCH: QUICK HITTERS
WIEBER NAMED TO PRESEASON STOPPER OF THE YEAR WATCH LIST
Wieber, a third-team All-Big Ten selection as a relief pitcher in 2011, led the team and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with eight saves last season; that total tied for third most in an MSU single-season. He also compiled a perfect 5-0 record with a 3.64 ERA and struck out 38 batters in 42.0 innings. In addition, Wieber ranked second on the team with 23 appearances.
Through two seasons, Wieber owns a 9-0 record on the mound and his nine career saves already rank sixth in MSU history. Wieber also plays outfield for the Spartans; he batted .288 with 12 doubles and 21 RBIs in 2011.
SOLID AT SECOND
During his All-Big Ten campaign as a sophomore, Jones collected a school-record 33-game hitting streak from March 6 to May 8. It tied for the longest hitting streak in the nation in 2011.
AMONG THE VERY BEST
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS
Earned an at-large berth to the 2011 NCAA Regionals for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Went 1-2 at the Charlottesville Regional as No. 3 seed, defeating No. 2 East Carolina in the first game but falling to No. 1 Virginia in the second game and later East Carolina in an elimination game.
Finished second in the 2011 Big East standings with an 18-8 record.
Junior outfielder Jeremy Baltz was named the Preseason Big East Player of the Year and has earned Preseason All-America accolades from Baseball America (second team) and Louisville Slugger (third team). A first-team All-Big East selection in 2011, Baltz batted .311 with 12 doubles, three triples and six home runs to post a .483 slugging percentage. The two-time first-team All-BIG EAST selection, who was a consensus All-American and the Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman, has a .356 average, 30 home runs and 145 RBIs in his first two seasons with the Red Storm.
Junior starting pitcher Kyle Hansen, who will go against Michigan State on Opening Day, was named a Preseason Third Team All-American by Louisville Slugger. A two-time All-Big East honoree, Hansen went 8-7 with a 3.09 ERA in 2011. The 6-8, 215-pound right-hander also collected 106 strikeouts in a school-record 107.2 innings of work and limited opponents to just a .223 average last season. Hansen ranks seventh among active Division I pitchers with 191 career strikeouts.
Junior relief pitcher Matt Carasiti was named to the Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List. Carasiti made a team-high 29 appearances a season ago, posting a 2-2 record and a 2.47 ERA. The righty also ranked fifth in the Big East with eight saves and racked up 39 strikeouts in 43.2 innings of work, while limiting the opposition to a .219 batting average.
Overall, the Red Storm welcome back 18 letterwinners from 2011, including their entire starting rotation.
Head coach Ed Blankmeyer, a four-time Big East Coach of the Year, is in his 17th season at St. John's. In 16 seasons, Blankmeyer has posted a 549-327-3 record, won two Big East Tournament crowns, three Big East regular season titles and made seven NCAA Regional appearances.
Series History vs. St. John's (2-1)
South Florida (25-29 record in 2011)
Went 25-29 overall in 2011 and finished ninth in the Big East standings with a 13-14 league mark.
Lelo Prado is entering his sixth year as head coach at USF. He is 165-155 in his previous five seasons. Formerly the head coach at Tampa (1989-95) and Louisville (1996-2005), Prado owns a 24-year head coaching record of 763-580-2.
Series History vs. South Florida (1-4)
No. 15 Louisville (32-29 record in 2011)
Returns 19 letterwinners from last season's team that went 32-29 and tied for fourth in the Big East standings with a 14-13 conference record.
Head coach Dan McDonnell is entering his sixth season at Louisville. In his five previous seasons, McDonnell is 217-106 with two Big East regular-season titles, two Big East Tournament titles, four NCAA Regionals, two NCAA Super Regionals and one College World Series.
Series History vs. Louisville (1-2)
at the official