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Spartans Begin Spring Break Trip with Series at No. 5 Texas A&M

Jordan Keur leads the team and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with his .458 batting average.

March 1, 2012

Games 8-10: Michigan State (4-3) at No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1)
 Dates Friday, March 2 - Sunday, March 4
 Location College Station, Texas | Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park (6,100)
 Multimedia Weekend Preview
 Ticket Information Click here for ticket pricing.
 Notes Michigan State | Texas A&M

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Game 1
 Date | Time Friday, March 2 | 7:35 p.m. ET
 Pitching Matchup MSU: Sr. RHP Tony Bucciferro (2-0, 2.25 ERA) vs.
TAMU: Jr. RHP Michael Wacha (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

Game 2
 Date | Time Saturday, March 3 | 3:05 p.m. ET
 Pitching Matchup MSU: Jr. RHP Andrew Waszak (1-0, 1.38 ERA) vs.
TAMU: Sr. RHP Ross Stripling (1-0, 3.29 ERA)

Game 3
 Date | Time Sunday, March 4 | 2:05 p.m. ET
 Pitching Matchup MSU: R-So. Mike Theodore (0-1, 1.00 ERA) vs.
TAMU: So. RHP Rafael Pineda (2-0, 1.29 ERA)

Michigan State faces one of its most challenging series in recent years with a trip to No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1) this weekend. The Aggies, who went 47-22 last season and reached the College World Series, are the Big 12 preseason favorite and return three All-Americans, including right fielder Tyler Naquin and starting pitchers Ross Stripling and Michael Wacha.

The three-game series against the Aggies is just one part of a seven-game spring trip to both Texas and Florida. After playing fifth-ranked Texas A&M, MSU will face No. 21 Baylor in Waco, Texas, on March 7 before heading to Port Charlotte, Fla., for three games (March 9-11) against Xavier, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said MSU head coach Jake Boss. "We'll be in an atmosphere really unlike any other in college baseball. Their fans are really passionate, so it's going to be a neat experience for our guys. On top of all that, we're playing a ballclub with a lot of returning guys that's coming off a trip to Omaha a year ago. It's certainly going to be a very good challenge. It's going to be a (NCAA) Regional atmosphere, which is something our guys need to experience to try and take the program to another level."

The Spartans (4-3) are coming off a 3-1 weekend at the First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. MSU split with Miami-Ohio and defeated Furman twice at the event.

Shortstop Justin Scanlon said this weekend at Texas A&M is a "great opportunity" for the Spartans.

"Overall, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, I think we played well last weekend," Boss said. "I'll take three out of four anytime. At the same time when you look at each game and break some things down, there's always room for improvement. I think we can be better in a lot of areas."

The fifth-ranked Aggies took two games from Northwestern State earlier this week. In Tuesday's 14-10 win over the Demons, they posted their biggest-ever comeback at Olsen Field, erasing a 10-1 deficit in the sixth inning. On Wednesday, Texas A&M won, 8-1.

Friday's opener will be a battle between two of the top starting pitchers in the nation, as Spartan senior right-hander Tony Bucciferro matches up against Wacha. Bucciferro is 2-0 this season and owns 22 career victories, tied for fifth most among active NCAA Division I pitchers. Wacha, who was named the Big 12 Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America, earned All-America honors last season after leading the Aggie pitching staff with 129.2 innings pitched and 123 strikeouts. He went 9-4 overall with a 2.29 ERA and is ranked the No. 10 junior in the nation by Baseball America.

On Saturday, junior Andrew Waszak (1-0, 1.38 ERA) will go against Stripling of the Aggies. A ninth-round pick by the Rockies in last June's MLB First-Year Player Draft after leading the nation with 14 wins in 2011, Stripling elected to return to Texas A&M for his senior season. Waszak has excelled out of the No. 2 spot in the rotation; through 13.0 innings this season, he owns a 1.38 ERA with seven strikeouts and just three walks.

Following his impressive performance in his first career start last Sunday against Miami-Ohio, red-shirt sophomore Mike Theodore will move into the weekend rotation to face the Aggies. Although he took the hard-luck defeat in the 1-0 loss to the RedHawks, Theodore allowed just one unearned run and four hits in 7.2 innings of work. Sophomore right-hander Rafael Pineda (2-0, 1.29 ERA) gets the call on the mound for Texas A&M in the series finale.


Michigan State will play seven games on its annual spring break trip, with four games in Texas and three games in Florida. Following the three-game set in College Station, Texas, against the No. 5 Aggies, MSU will head to Waco for a Wednesday contest against the 21st-ranked Baylor Bears. On March 9-11 (Friday-Sunday), the Spartans will participate in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla., to face Xavier, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh.

Michigan State's victory over No. 11 St. John's on Opening Day was the highest-ranked team MSU has defeated since taking down No. 6 Rice on March 7, 2008, in Houston. St. John's, the preseason Big East favorite, was ranked No. 11 by Collegiate Baseball.

MSU Wins Over Ranked Opponents (Since 2000)
Feb. 17, 2011 - Dunedin, Fla. - Michigan State 11, No. 11 St. John's 4
March 7, 2008 - Houston, Texas - Michigan State 9, No. 6 Rice 3
March 16, 2007 - Norman, Okla. - Michigan State 4, No. 21 Oklahoma 3
Feb. 28, 2003 - Myrtle Beach, S.C. - Michigan State 3, No. 20 North Carolina 1
March 8, 2000 - Coral Gables, Fla. - Michigan State 13, No. 10 Miami 11

MSU leads the Big Ten in most pitching categories in the Big Ten, including ERA (2.56), opposing batting average (.227), walks allowed (12), runs allowed (22), and saves (3). The Spartans also rank second in strikeouts with 47. The starters (41.1 IP, 2.61 ERA) and bullpen (22.0 IP, 2.45 ERA) have been equally effective.

Last weekend at the First Pitch Invitational, Michigan State's bullpen didn't allow a single earned run or walk one batter in 13.1 innings pitched. Joe Zwierzynski pitched three scoreless innings to earn the save in the 13-4 win over Miami-Ohio, closer Tony Wieber picked up his second save of the season in the 4-2 victory against Furman, and Jeff Kinley allowed one run - unearned - and struck out four in four innings of work to get his first career victory in Saturday's 11-inning win over the Paladins. Trey Popp (2.1 innings) and Bryce Jenney (2.0 innings) also didn't give up a run out of the bullpen for MSU.

Junior left fielder Jordan Keur leads the Spartans and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with a .458 batting average (11-for-24). He also leads the team and ranks fourth in the conference in on-base percentage (.548). Keur went 7-for-12 (.583) at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge and had two hits and three runs in the Opening Day win over 11th-ranked St. John's, went 3-for-3 in the loss to South Florida, and collected two more hits and scored three runs against No. 15 Louisville.

For the second straight week, MSU outscored its opponents by a significant margin in games against Miami-Ohio and Furman. Although the Spartans went 1-2 at the Big Ten/Big East Invitational, they held an 18-13 runs advantage over their opponents. MSU scored 23 runs and only allowed nine at the First Pitch Invitational. For the season, MSU is outscoring their opponents by 19 runs (41-22). All three of MSU's losses have been by one run.

Tony Bucciferro has put together several impressive performances on the mound during his career at Michigan State - add Opening Day 2012 to that list. The senior right-hander allowed only one hit through six innings against No. 11 St. John's. He struck out six, didn't surrender a walk, and retired his first 13 batters.

Bucciferro gathered some national attention for his start, as Perfect Game USA columnist Kendall Rogers tabbed him as "one of the nation's best pitchers." Coach Boss also labeled it "as good of a performance by Tony since he's been here. He threw strikes, located all of his pitches, and was in charge the entire time he was out there."

It was good enough for Bucciferro to earn Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week accolades, marking the second time in his career he has won the weekly award. Bucciferro won his second start last Friday against Miami-Ohio (6 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 10 H), the 22nd of his career.

The Joliet, Ill., native continues to climb up the ladder in Michigan State's record book. He's third in innings pitched with 273.0, fifth in strikeouts with 188, and sixth in victories with 22.

In front of numerous scouts against St. John's, junior center fielder Torsten Boss delivered a solo homer in his first at-bat of 2012 off of preseason All-American Kyle Hansen, hitting a 94-mph fastball over the left-center field wall. Boss stayed hot throughout the game, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs, including a two-run single in the fifth inning. The Lowell, Mich., product hit .429 overall (6-for-14) at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.

Although he was an All-Big Ten performer his first two seasons at third base, Boss moved to center field this spring for the Spartans following the departure of four-year starter Brandon Eckerle.

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. He currently has a career average of .354 with 14 homers and 104 RBIs, and was named to Louisville Slugger's Preseason All-America Third Team.

Ryan Jones leads MSU with a .645 slugging percentage and already has two homers this season.

Junior Ryan Jones is in his third season as the starting second baseman for the Spartans. Last season, Jones became the first Spartan to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors at second base in 36 years as he hit .344 and led the team with a .442 on-base percentage. After batting No. 2 in the order his first two seasons, Jones has moved to the leadoff spot this year.

With two homers in the first seven games, Jones has already eclipsed his home run total from last season (1). He currently leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big Ten with a .645 slugging percentage (two doubles, one triple, two homers).

Last summer, Jones was named to the Cape Cod League All-Star Team while playing for the Brewster Whitecaps. He finished 17th in the CCL with a .283 average during the 44-game regular season, and had a hit and a run in the CCL All-Star Game at Fenway Park on July 29.

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.

Michigan State returns six starters from its Big Ten Championship team 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.


No. 5 Texas A&M (8-1)
• The Aggies return 16 letterwinners, including five position starters, from last season's team that went 47-22 and advanced to the program's fifth appearance in the College World Series.

• Voted the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, the Aggies tied for first last season with a 19-8 conference mark and also won the Big 12 Conference Tournament.

• Took two games from Northwestern State earlier this week. In Tuesday's 14-10 win over the Demons, they posted their biggest-ever comeback at Olsen Field, erasing a 10-1 deficit in the sixth innnig. On Wednesday, Texas A&M won, 8-1.

• Junior right fielder Tyler Naquin, the 2011 Big 12 Player of the Year, returns to lead the Aggie lineup. Naquin led the nation with 104 last season and is off to another hot start this season (.563 batting average). Naquin was named a first-team preseason All-American by Baseball America.

• Friday starter Michael Wacha, who was named the Big 12 Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America, earned All-America honors last season after leading the Aggie pitching staff with 129.2 innings pitched and 123 strikeouts. He went 9-4 overall with a 2.29 ERA and is ranked the No. 10 junior in the nation by Baseball America.

• Saturday starter Ross Stripling was a ninth-round pick by the Rockies in last June's MLB First-Year Player Draft after leading the nation with 14 wins in 2011 but elected to return to Texas A&M for his senior season.

Series History vs. Texas A&M: First meeting.

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. MSU has won four Big Ten regular-season titles in school history (1954, 1971, 1979, 2011) but has never repeated as conference champs. The Spartans won their 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.

Senior shortstop Justin Scanlon led MSU at the plate at the First Pitch Invitational with a .368 average, going 7-for-19 with one double and two RBIs. Scanlon also tied for the team lead with four runs.

The Verona, Wis., native went 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs in Friday's opening 13-4 win over Miami-Ohio, then followed that effort up by going 2-for-4 with a run in the nightcap victory against Furman. In Saturday's 11-inning win over Furman, Scanlon went 1-for-6 with a run, but bounced back by collecting two of MSU's three hits in the 1-0 loss to Miami-Ohio on Sunday.

Scanlon has started every game at shortstop for MSU the past two seasons - 64 straight - since transferring from Madison Junior College. For the season, he is third on the team with a .313 batting average and currently owns a seven-game hitting streak. He was voted a captain by his teammates prior to the season.

Junior right-hander Tony Wieber has been named to the Stopper of the Year Award Preseason Watch List, as announced by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association of America. The award has been given annually since 2005 to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball.

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.

Thus far in 2012, Wieber is two-for-two in save opportunities (St. John's, Furman).

Wieber owns a 9-0 career record on the mound and his 11 career saves already rank fourth in MSU history. Wieber could also play outfield for the Spartans; he batted .288 with 12 doubles and 21 RBIs in 2011.

Filling in for injured starter Joel Fisher, catcher John Martinez has been red hot for the Spartans, ranking second on the team in batting (.368) and on-base percentage (.400). Martinez has started the last five games for the Spartans after Fisher injured his leg on Feb. 18 against South Florida. Fisher is expected back for the start of Big Ten play at the end of March.

Martinez went 5-for-13 at the First Pitch Invitational (.333) and scored three times. In the tournament opener against the RedHawks, Martinez recorded a career-high three hits, including a triple, and tied a career high with two RBIs.



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