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Spartans Open Three-Game Series At No. 10 South Carolina Friday

March 9, 2017

Michigan State (9-2, 0-0 B1G) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-5, 0-0 SEC)
Game 1 Friday, March 10 | 7 p.m. ET
Location Founders Park - Columbia, S.C.
Game Notes Michigan State | South Carolina
Probable Pitching Matchup MSU: LHP #32 Alex Troop (SO) (2-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. USC: RHP #6 Clarke Schmidt (JR)  (2-0, 0.48 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Listen Live: South Carolina Radio | Watch Live





Michigan State (9-2, 0-0 B1G) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-5, 0-0 SEC)
Game 2 Saturday, March 11 | 4 p.m. ET
Location Founders Park - Columbia, S.C.
Game Notes Michigan State | South Carolina
Probable Pitching Matchup MSU: RHP #7 Ethan Landon (JR) (0-0, 6.75 ERA) vs. USC: RHP #37 Wil Crowe (JR) (2-0, 2.60 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Listen Live: South Carolina Radio | Watch Live
Michigan State (9-2, 0-0 B1G) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-5, 0-0 SEC)
Game 3 Sunday, March 12 | 1:30 p.m. ET
Location Founders Park - Columbia, S.C.
Game Notes Michigan State | South Carolina
Probable Pitching Matchup MSU: RHP #34 Andrew Gonzalez (JR) (1-0, 5.00 ERA) vs. USC: RHP #15 Adam Hill (SO) (0-2, 1.56 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Listen Live: South Carolina Radio | Watch Live


Michigan State baseball wraps up its seven games in 10 days Spring Break trip with a three-game series at No. 10 South Carolina (6-5, 0-0 SEC) at Founders Park in Columbia, South Carolina Friday-Sunday, March 10-12. Friday’s series-opener is slated for a 7 p.m. start, followed by 4 p.m. on Saturday before wrapping up on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

The weekend series at South Carolina will have live stats, live audio and video streaming through SEC Network +, with links at www.MSUSpartans.com.

MSU is currently 9-2 overall, including 3-1 in the seven games in 10-days stretch after sweeping the First Pitch Invitational. The Spartans kicked off the weekend with a 3-2 win over Furman on Friday, then pounded Presbyterian, 10-2 on Saturday, before capping off the Invitational with a 6-1 win over UT Martin on Sunday. MSU suffered its first loss of the trip with a 9-2 loss to No. 9 Clemson Wednesday night in Greenville, South Carolina, at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive.

• Michigan State opened the season 9-1 for the second-straight year and tied for the second-best start to a season through 10 games. In addition to this season and last year, MSU was also 9-1 through 10 games in 1971, while the best mark in school history was the 1946 squad that went undefeated through its first 10 games.

One Of 32 With 2,300
Michigan State picked up its 2,300th all-time win in the season-opener on Feb. 17, becoming just the fifth team in the Big Ten Conference and the 32nd team in the country with 2,300 wins.

Head Coach Jake Boss, Jr., Closing In On 300, Twice
MSU head coach Jake Boss, Jr., is in the early going of his ninth season as head coach of the Spartans and he has an overall record of 298-217 (.580) in his 10 overall years as a collegiate head coach, needing two wins for his 300th career win. He has a 273-183 (.600) record at the helm of the MSU program, meaning that if the Spartans equal last year’s win total of 36 wins, Boss will reach the 300-win plateau mark as the Spartan head coach.

MSU No. 2 In RPI
Michigan State is No. 2 in the most recent NCAA RPI rankings, while also just outside the main Top 25 polls, ranking fourth among others receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, as well as No. 20 in the Hero Sports College D1 College Baseball rankings.

Racking Up The Runs
MSU leads the B1G and ranks 14th in the NCAA with 9.1 runs scored per game, plating 100 runs through 11 games, ranking first in the conference and 30th in the country in total runs scored.

Individually, freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves leads the league and ranks 36th in the nation with 16 runs scored (1.5 per game).

Lighting Up The Scoreboard With Double Digits
The Spartans have scored double-digits in four of the 11 games, including 10 against Presbyterian over the weekend, finishing with a total of 19 runs in the three games of the First Pitch Invitational. MSU also scored 14 and 19 runs at Abilene Christian. Michigan State racked up 28 runs in the three-game series at UNC-Greensboro, averaging 9.3 runs per game, boosted by the 22 runs in the 22-16 win over UNCG on Feb. 25.

Greenville / Spartan Connection
Owner/President of the Greenville Drive is MSU alum Craig Brown, who was the 2016 Alumnus of the Year at last season’s Michigan State First Pitch Dinner. Just this past winter, Craig and his wife, Vicki (Huber) Brown, were named the Michigan State University Alumni Association’s Philanthropists of the Year. Craig Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Eli Broad College of Business, majoring in accounting, in 1973. Vicki Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in the College of Education, majoring in special education, in 1975.

As President of the Greenville Drive, Mr. Brown focuses on the activities that result in the Drive being part of the fabric of the community. Fluor Field, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary season, is one of a handful of privately owned stadiums in America and was named Ballpark of the Year upon its debut in 2006. Mr. Brown is also the CEO of Keelers Ridge Associates (KRA), an investment and consulting firm that is engaged in entrepreneurial activities involving sports, technology, and marketing.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown actively support academic and athletic programs at Michigan State. Craig also serves on the Athletic Director’s Advisory Council and chairs Spartan Innovations. Formerly, he oversaw the MSU Foundation Board. In recognition of their generosity, an area of the Spartan
Stadium North End Zone bears their names. The Browns also belong to MSU’s Empower Extraordinary President’s Capital Campaign Cabinet.

9-1 For Second-Straight Season Under Boss
Michigan State opened the season 9-1 for the second-straight year and tied for the second-best start to a season through 10 games. In addition to this season and last year, MSU was also 9-1 through 10 games in 1971, while the best mark in school history was the 1946 squad that went undefeated through its first 10 games.

Milestone Victories
Michigan State’s 2,300th win came on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Here’s a closer look of MSU’s milestone wins:

1st Win May 19, 1884
100th Win May 26, 1905
500th Win April 25, 1945
1,000th Win May 13, 1972
1,500th Win April 27, 1991
2,000th Win April 6, 2010
2,300th Win Feb. 17, 2017

Last Weekend Recap
Michigan State swept the First Pitch Invitational. The Spartans opened the weekend with a 3-2 win over Furman on Friday, rallying from an early 2-0 deficit, capping the comeback with a go-ahead home run by freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves in the seventh. MSU then pounded Presbyterian, 10-2 on Saturday, pulling way with a six-run sixth inning, before capping off the weekend with a 6-1 win over UT Martin on Sunday, again pulling away in the sixth inning on a two-run home run by senior second baseman Dan Durkin.

Last Time Out Recap
MSU was clipped by No. 9 Clemson, 9-2, Wednesday night at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C., as the Spartans suffered their first loss of their Spring Break road swing. The Tigers had a three-run second inning and broke the game open with a five-run fifth inning, with the big blow coming on a grand slam. Eight different Spartans had one hit apiece, as MSU out-hit Clemson, 8-7, but left nine runners on base compared to three for the Tigers. Junior first baseman Zack McGuire was 1-for-3 with an RBI double, one of three extra base hits for the Spartans. Senior second baseman Dan Durkin and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves added the other doubles. Durkin and sophomore shortstop Royce Ando scored MSU’s runs. Senior pitcher Joe Mockbee went three innings, allowing three runs while striking out three. Junior reliever Nathan Witt fired 2.2 innings of relief, striking out four while only allowing two hits. Freshman Mitchell Tyranski pitched an inning of hitless ball, chalking up a pair of strikeouts.

Lumber-Toting Spartans
MSU has lugged the lumber to the plate, hitting .329 so far this season, leading the B1G and ranking 17th in the NCAA.

Individually, MSU has three players in the top 10 in the B1G in average, with sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina fifth at .395, followed by junior first baseman Zack McGuire at seventh hitting .391 and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves at 10th with .377. Nebraska is the only other team with more than one in the top 10 with two players.

Swiping Spartans
Michigan State currently is second in the Big Ten and third in the NCAA in stolen bases with 30, also ranking first in the conference and second in the country with 2.73 stolen bases per game.

Fast Outfielders
Individually, all three of MSU’s outfielders ranked in the top four of the conference in stolen bases, as junior outfielder Brandon Hughes leads the league and ranks third in the nation with 10, while sophomore outfielder Dan Chmielewski is fourth with six swipes and freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves is fifth with five stolen bases.

Big Bat Bechina
Sophomore third baseman Marty Bechina has continued his hot start to the season, now batting .395 (17-for-43) on the season, ranking fifth in the Big Ten, with nine RBI and four home runs, which lead the Big Ten and ranks 33rd in the NCAA. Bechina’s four home runs has already exceeded last year’s total of two round-trippers.

Zack Smacking It
Junior first baseman Zack McGuire is second on the team and seventh in the Big Ten with a .391 average (18-for-46) with 13 RBI and a team-leading seven doubles. The seven two-baggers not only leads the team but tops the conference and is 15th in the NCAA. McGuire’s 18 hits are fifth in the B1G.

Gleaves Leaves Immediate Mark
Freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves had a breakout debut in a Spartan uniform to the tune of .524 (11-for-21) with five RBI, knocking two doubles as part of this 11 hits. Gleaves also had three putouts in left field in his first MSU action.

On the season, Gleaves is now hitting .377 (20-for-53) with 12 RBI, five doubles and one home run. Gleaves ranks 10th in the B1G in batting, as well as second in the league in hits with 20, and also ranks second in the B1G and 38th in the NCAA with 1.82 hits per game.

Gleaves currently also tops both the team and B1G as well as ranking 36th in the nation in runs scored with 16, ranking first in the league and 21st in the nation with 1.45 runs per game.

Captain Dan
Team captain, senior second baseman Dan Durkin has a .362 average (17-of-47) and ranks 14th in the B1G in average. Durkin also tops both the team and the B1G in RBI with 15 RBI, ranking 66th in the NCAA, as well as ranking first in the league and 49th in the nation in RBI per game with 1.4. The captain is second on both the team and in the B1G with six doubles, along with tied for second on the team with two home runs and tied for third with 17 hits, while also swiping three stolen bases.

McCauley-ing It Over
Sophomore reliever Riley McCauley picked up his first career save on Feb. 18 in MSU’s 9-7 win at Abilene Christian. McCauley also collected a pair of saves in as many outings at UNC-Greensboro, in the 5-4 win on Feb. 24 and the 22-16 victory on Feb. 25. McCauley’s three saves are tied for the B1G-lead and rank seventh in the NCAA.

Scouting South Carolina
The 10th-ranked Gamecocks are 9-5 overall after winning a pair of midweek games with a 12-5 win over The Citadel on Tuesday and an 8-6 win over Winthrop on Wednesday. South Carolina lost two of three vs. Clemson over the weekend in their three-game home-neutral-home series, playing at Clemson Friday (W, 2-0), at Greenville on Saturday (L, 5-3) and at Columbia (L, 9-7 (11)) on Sunday. Junior infielder Matt Williams leads USC with a .410 average (16-for-39), one of five Gamecocks batting over .300. Senior right-hander Colie Bowers has six appearances with a 0.00 ERA and a 2-0 record. The Gamecocks’ probable weekend rotation is a trio of right-handers in Junior Clarke Schmidt (2-0, 0.48 ERA) on Friday, junior Wil Crowe (2-0, 2.60 ERA) on Saturday and sophomore Adam Hill (0-2, 1.56 ERA) in Sunday’s series finale.

SERIES HISTORY
South Carolina
All-Time Series: MSU leads, 16-5 / Away 16-5 / Neutral 0-0
First Met: March 28, 1935 - Columbia, S.C. - MSU W, 5-1
Last Meeting: March 31, 1958 - Columbia, S.C. - MSU W, 12-0

Up Next
MSU will return home to East Lansing Sunday night, but then hit the road again next weekend, heading to Richmond, Va. to participate in the Richmond Spider Invitational Friday-Sunday, March 17-19, taking on Campbell on Friday, March 17, then host Richmond on Saturday, March 18 before wrapping up with Cornell on Sunday, March 19.

Durkin Earns Big Ten Conference Player of the Week Plaudits
Michigan State baseball’s Dan Durkin was named the Big Ten Conference Baseball Player of the Week, announced by the conference office on Monday, Feb. 20.

A senior second baseman from Tinley Park, Illinois, Durkin helped the Spartans to a 4-0 mark with a four-game series sweep at Abilene Christian.

The B1G Player of the Week is Durkin’s first weekly conference honor of his career. He is the first Spartan to earn B1G Player of the Week accolades since Zack McGuire earned the weekly plaudits last season on May 2, 2016. It also marks the second year in a row that MSU has earned a league honor in the opening weekend, as Marty Bechina earned Freshman of the Week honors last season in the first weekend.

Durkin had a smashing debut as the Spartans’ captain, going 9-for-18, hitting .500, with 11 RBI with four extra-base hits, and scoring six runs in the four-game series. With the 11 RBI and six runs scored, Durkin accounted for 33.3 percent of MSU’s scoring as Michigan State plated 51 runs with 63 hits on the weekend, including 22 extra-base hits.

He opened by going 3-for-6 in season-opener, driving in two on a single in the sixth and later scored as part of MSU’s six-run inning to break open a 1-1 game and make it a 6-1 lead. In the eighth, laced a double and later came around to score insurance run.

Durkin hit 2-for-3 with two RBI in the first game of the doubleheader, driving in both runs on a single in the fourth for MSU’s first two of three runs in the frame as they turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead, a lead they never relinquished. In the nightcap, he went 3-for-5 with five RBI and two runs scored. Durkin drove in MSU’s first run of the night with a double and scored the second run, both in the first inning. In the second inning, Durkin blasted a three-run home run to right as MSU broke open a 4-1 lead with five runs. In the fifth, he had a sac fly to center for an RBI, his fifth of the day.

Sunday’s series finale saw Durkin go 1-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. He started his day by drawing a walk in the first inning, later coming around to score as part of MSU’s four-run first inning. In the fifth, he drew another walk and scored again, before belting a two-run double in the ninth as the Spartans blew the game open with a six runs, turning an 8-5 close game into a 14-5 rout.

Standout Debuts In Green & White
Gleaves wasn’t the only Spartan newcomer to have a standout debut, as freshman outfielder Bryce Kelley blasted an RBI triple in his first collegiate at bat. On the mound, freshman right-handed reliever Sam Benschoter threw two scoreless innings of work, chalking up his first two strikeouts as a collegiate pitcher. Redshirt-sophomore Nathan Witt made his debut on the mound after missing the first two seasons due to injury, and made two appearances on the weekend with an inning and a third worth of work without allowing any hits. Freshman righty Mike Mokma threw one complete inning without a hit and right-handed starter Mason Erla was MSU’s starter on Sunday, spraying eight hits in four innings of work.

Preseason B1G
MSU was tabbed fifth in the 2017 Big Ten Preseason Poll released by the conference office on Wednesday, Feb. 15. The league’s coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three student-athletes from their own squads to a Preseason Honors list. MSU’s Preseason Honorees included senior catcher Matt Byars, junior outfielder Brandon Hughes and sophomore pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Alex Troop.

Byars was selected in the 24th round and No. 723 overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, but opted to return to Michigan State for his senior season. Behind the plate defensively, Byars threw out 12 potential base stealers and picked off two more. At the plate offensively, Byars hit .284 with 26 RBI with 16 doubles, which tied for 11th in the league, adding two triples and four home runs, and was a perfect 3-for-3 swiping bases. He appeared in 55 of the 56 games last season.

Hughes is one of two returning All-Big Ten honorees, as the center fielder earned third team accolades last season. He is one of three returning Spartans to hit over .300 as he hit .303 with 31 RBI, 11 doubles and two round-trippers. Hughes also led the team and was 11th in the Big Ten with 17 stolen bases.

Troop had a stellar first 12 games of the season a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury. At the plate he hit .372 with 13 RBI (1.1 pg), six doubles and one home run, to go with two stolen bases. Troop is also a weapon on the mound for the Spartans. Last season the southpaw posted a 3-0 mark with a 1.64 ERA with 14 strikeouts in just four appearances with 11.0 IP (11.5 strikeouts per nine innings) before his injury.

Road Ready
Michigan State opens the season with its first 17 games away from home, including 11 true road games to go with six neutral games.

Returning Numbers
MSU returns six starters and three starting pitchers from last season’s squad that advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, posting a 36-20 overall record and was 13-11 in Big Ten action.

Immediate Impact In Big Ten
In Ethan Landon’s first season at MSU, the right-hander picked up six wins in Big Ten play as a redshirt sophomore, which is the most by any pitcher in school history.

Notes From 2016
Michigan State wrapped up the 2016 season with a 36-20 overall record and 13-11 mark in Big Ten play to finish tied for sixth before advancing to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The 36 wins tied the fourth most victories in school history with the 1971, 1992 and 2011 clubs.

• MSU got off to a hot start and its 14-1 record was the best start in school history through 15 games.

• Michigan State pitchers combined for a school record 466 strikeouts - 57 more than the 2015 club, which previously held the record.

• All season long, the Spartans’ ERA ranked among the top five in the country and finished at a 2.75 mark, that is the fifth lowest ever by an MSU pitching staff.

Returning All-Big Ten Honorees
Infielder Dan Durkin played in all 56 games last season as a junior and hit .324 with 32 RBIs and a .402 on-base percentage to earn First Team All-Big Ten honors. Brandon Hughes was a member of the Third Team, hitting .303 with 31 RBI, 11 doubles and two round-trippers. Hughes also led the team and was 11th in the Big Ten with 17 stolen bases. Marty Bechina started in all but one game during his first season in the Green and White and was selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

Spartan Roster Breakdown
Michigan State’s roster consists of seven seniors, 10 juniors, seven sophomores and 11 freshmen. The senior class includes Preseason B1G Honoree catcher Matt Byars, who was drafted in the MLB Draft last season (Minnesota, 24th round), but opted to return to Michigan State, as well as infielder Dan Durkin, who was named team captain. Senior relief pitchers Joe Mockbee and Walter Borkovich will anchor the Spartans’ bullpen.

Highlighting the juniors is starting pitchers Ethan Landon and Andrew Gonzalez, who will make up two-thirds of MSU’s weekend rotation on the mound. Another junior standout is outfielder Brandon Hughes, who is a Preseason B1G Honoree.

The sophomore group includes Preseason B1G Honoree P/1B/OF Alex Troop, who played in only 12 games last season before a season-ending injury. It also includes Marty Bechina, who split time between outfield and infield last season, but will be the Spartans’ starter at third base, and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team last season.

MSU Baseball 2017 Outlook
Michigan State baseball is coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history last year when they posted 36 wins, tied for the fourth-most in school history. Heading into the 2017 season, the Spartans are gearing up to not just reach that mark but top it.

“I think this is always a fun week. We are really excited to get rolling and get out in some warmer weather. There’s nothing quite like game week. The excitement is in the air now and you start to settle in the routine of travel and game day routines and things of that nature. Everybody is excited; we’ve got a veteran group. As much as we love each other, we’re sick of hitting and playing against each other, so it’s going to be good to get out and compete with somebody else,” MSU head coach Jake Boss, Jr., said.

The Spartans return six starters and three starting pitchers from last season’s 36-20 squad that advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. While MSU lost three players to the Major League Baseball Draft in June, pitchers Dakota Mekkes and Cam Vieaux along with first baseman Jordan Zimmerman, the Spartans have more that enough weapons to reload for another run to the Big Ten title.

Three milestone victories are on the near horizon for Spartan baseball, one involving the program’s well-decorated history while the other two involve the Spartans’ manager.

Michigan State enters the 2017 season with 2,299 all-time wins, and with their next win, the Spartans will become just the fifth team in the Big Ten Conference and the 32nd team in the country with 2,300 wins.

Boss is starting his ninth season as head coach of the Spartans and he has an overall record of 289-215 (.573) in his nine overall years as a collegiate head coach, needing 11 wins for his 300th career win. He has a 264-181 (.593) record at the helm of the MSU program, meaning that if the Spartans equal last year’s win total of 36 wins, Boss will reach the 300-win plateau mark as the Spartan head coach.

Five of the 10 winningest seasons in MSU history have come under Boss’ direction. He has guided the Spartans to 30-win seasons in each of the last seven years, as well as the Big Ten regular-season championship in 2011 and the NCAA Tournament in 2012.

Michigan State has goals of winning the Big Ten Championship, but also reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2017, and Boss feels that his team has the tools to do so.

“The adage to be a good ball club that you have to be strong up the middle is true. I think we are strong up the middle this year. If you look at our ball club, the pitching is extremely deep. It’s a veteran group, but there are some young guys on there, some freshmen, that are really going to contribute too,” Boss said.

The Spartan head coach will have ample talent to fill out his lineup each game, including on the mound.

“We go probably 11, 12, 13 guys deep on the mound, which is tremendous as far as a college baseball team is concerned. It’s as deep of a pitching staff as I’ve ever been able to coach,” Boss said. “I really like this team. It will be fun to see what they can accomplish.”

Boss singled out the senior duo of catcher Matt Byars and second baseman Dan Durkin along with junior center fielder Brandon Hughes as the Spartans’ strength up the middle.

“Our catcher was drafted last year by the Minnesota Twins in the 24th round and turned down the draft so he is back to finish out his senior year here at Michigan State. Matt Byars is a great kid, tremendous defensive catcher, one of the best around. We have Dan Durkin at second base and then Brandon Hughes in center field. Hughes is a very athletic kid who runs extremely well and is kind of the guy who makes out offense go. You sprinkle that in with some talented and powerful corner guys, a couple of freshmen in the mix as well, a couple of freshmen arms in the mix as well,” Boss said.

Byars was selected No. 723 overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, but opted to return to Michigan State for his senior season.

“Matt Byars, obviously had a very good year last year. I thought he made a great decision coming back to Michigan State for his senior year. It’s a tough decision, I know, and I think each case is different. With Matt’s situation and what the Twins offered him, it wasn’t enticing enough to trump his senior year at Michigan State,” Boss said. “We are obviously happy to have him back. He is one of the best defensive catchers in the country. I think Matt will hit in the middle of the order for us and provide some power as well. I would expect Matt to have a big year for us. They say if you’re going to be a good ball club, you have to be strong up the middle, and I think Matt leads the way there.”

Behind the plate defensively, Byars threw out 12 potential base stealers and picked off two more. At the plate offensively, Byars hit .284 with 26 RBI with 16 doubles, which tied for 11th in the league, adding two triples and four home runs, and was a perfect 3-for-3 swiping bases. He appeared in 55 of the 56 games last season.

Anchoring the infield is Durkin, who was named the team captain after all the players asked Boss and the coaching staff to do so, and will wear the captain’s “C” on his jersey in a new move by Boss, announced at the program’s First Pitch Dinner to kick off the start of the season.

“It was a really special moment selfishly for me as a coach,” Boss said. “Dan has been a tremendous player and tremendous leader here for us for four years now. I think the neat thing about putting the “C” on his jersey on was that it came from the players. It was not my idea and it was not anybody on the coaching staff’s idea. That was the idea of his teammates and they came to us as a staff and said, ‘We really want to do this.’ They were passionate about this and it was a no-brainer. I think it was a very neat honor for Dan and I think it means more coming from his peers.”

Durkin earned First Team All-Big Ten last season after batting .324 at the plate, tallying 32 RBI, nine doubles and six HRs, while stealing five bases. Durkin is the only returner and just one of two players total to have both started and played in all 56 games a year ago.

“Dan Durkin’s at second base coming off of a First Team All-Big Ten year. He was the unquestioned leader of this ball club and a young man that has really earned everything he has gotten here with the way that he goes about his business, the way he handles himself and his work ethic. He is a very impressive young man and one of the better leaders that I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Boss said.

The Spartans’ other returning All-Big Ten award winner is Hughes in center field.

“Brandon Hughes in center field is good defensively as there is in my opinion, and then offensively he kind of makes us go,” Boss said. “He is a catalyst and he is a switch-hitter that can do a lot of different things. He can hit for power, he can hit for average, and he is a threat to steal bases. He is really going to make our offense go. I would expect him to hit in the leadoff spot and really kind of set the table for the guys to, in the middle of the order, drive them in.”

In addition to being the other returning All-Big Ten honoree, Hughes is one of three returning Spartans to hit over .300 as he hit .303 with 31 RBI, 11 doubles and two round-trippers. Hughes also led the team and was 11th in the Big Ten with 17 stolen bases.

Moving back to the infield, sophomore Marty Bechina will be holding down the hot corner after splitting time between there and the outfield last year. He hit .260 with 23 RBI, earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.

“We are going to bring Marty Bechina back into the infield for his sophomore year. Marty had a good freshman year for us. He played mostly left field and played a lot of infield at third base over the summer and was very good in the fall. Marty is a very athletic and talented kid that will hit for power and runs well with a plus arm. We would expect him to play a solid third base,” Boss said.

Joining Bechina on the left side of the infield at shortstop will be split between junior Kory Young and sophomore Royce Ando.

“At shortstop, we’ve got two guys that are really competing for that job right now, going head to head, and both guys have played a lot of baseball here. Both of them are very good defensively and very capable of playing good shortstop. Both could see time early and I would expect them both to get a lot of playing time this year until somebody really wins that job outright,” Boss said.

The duo split time last season, both gaining valuable experience, with Ando seeing the majority of time, as he shared the team-lead with Durkin with 110 assists, while Young had 51.

“We feel good about both of them, especially defensively. Offensively, I think they both know what their games are and they will be able to help with the execution piece of what we are trying to accomplish.”

The other corner will also be split by sophomore Alex Troop and junior Zack McGuire as Troop will also be one of the Spartans’ starting pitchers. Troop had a stellar first 12 games of the season a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury. At the plate he hit .372 with 13 RBI (1.1 pg), six doubles and one home run, to go with two stolen bases. McGuire spent time at first backing up Spartan standout Jordan Zimmerman, while also playing DH, hitting .250 while driving in 14 runs, hitting seven doubles and two home runs.

“We’ll have Alex Troop at first base, who hit the middle of the order for us last year and playing good defensively until he got hurt. Zack McGuire is the other guy that will play first base for us, especially when Alex pitches, Zack will be the first baseman,” Boss said. “I would expect both of those guys to be in the lineup at some point, regardless of who is playing first base. Both guys will hit for some power and both of them are playing really well defensively right now. Again, I feel very good about those guys.”

In right field will be a returner in sophomore Dan Chmielewski, who blossomed into having a dazzling freshman campaign. He is the third returner who hit over .300, posting a .308 average with five RBI and three doubles. In the field, Chmielewski made several leather-flashing plays, including making ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 with a diving catch in the Big Ten Tournament.

“Dan Chmielewski really played well last year when he was given his opportunity and took advantage of it and was a catalyst for us starting in the Michigan series and moving forward to the end of the year,” Boss said. “He is very good defensively and is another guy that can make us go and can do a lot of different things on the bases.”

While a returner anchors right field, left field will be patrolled by a new Spartan in freshman Danny Gleaves. As a high school senior, Gleaves hit .450 with 24 RBI and 38 runs scored, belting 11 doubles and three home runs in earning second-team All-Chicago Area at St. Rita High School, the same program that produced Bechina.

“Danny Gleaves is a kid who runs extremely well and is a very athletic young man who can hit for both average and power. It will be interesting to see where he settles in the lineup, but with a kid with that much ability, I think the sky is the limit as far as he is concerned and it’s going to be exciting to watch his development here at Michigan State,” Boss said.

On the mound, Boss and his staff are excited about the talent and depth.

“I think the mound is probably where we are the deepest and have not had depth like this on the mound ever since I’ve been here at Michigan State,” Boss said.

Troop, a left-hander, and the junior right-handed duo of Ethan Landon and Andrew Gonzalez spearhead the rotation, along with freshmen righties Mason Erla and Mike Mokma.

Troop is slated as the Spartans’ potential Friday night starter on the mound. Last season the southpaw posted a 3-0 mark with a 1.64 ERA with 14 strikeouts in just four appearances with 11.0 IP (11.5 strikeouts per nine innings) before his injury. Landon is the other possibility for the Friday starter. A year ago, Landon registered a 2.75 ERA with 15 appearances with 85.0 innings, firing 59 K’s. Gonzalez notched a 2.84 ERA in 17 appearances with 57.0 IP, while striking out 40.

“Ethan Landon and Alex Troop are the guys that probably lead that pitching staff and we’ve got what we feel are two Friday night guys in Ethan and Alex. Those guys are going to be outstanding for us,” Boss said. “The third starter, Andrew Gonzalez, is back after a good year. He is healthy and throwing extremely well right now.”

Erla earned honorable mention Central Region as well as All-State honors at Cass City HS, where he was a three-sport standout. Mokma posted a 15-0 record and helped lead Holland Christian to the Division 2 state title, threw two perfect games along the way and was named MLive Grand Rapids Player of the Year. At the plate, Mokma batted .440.

“Mason Erla is extremely talented and has a chance to settle into a starting role as well, as does another freshman, Mike Mokma. Again, another extremely talented young man who is going to have a great career at Michigan State,” Boss said.

Anchoring the MSU bullpen will be a pair of seniors in right-hander Walter Borkovich and lefty Joe Mockbee. Junior righty Jake Lowery will also be called on.

“The bullpen is also extremely deep and led by seniors Walter Borkovich and Joe Mockbee. Those guys have pitched a lot for us here at Michigan State. Both have closed for us, both have started for us, and they have done a lot of different things,” Boss said. “Jake Lowery is another guy coming out of the pen that I think is going to be extremely good. All three of those guys have legitimate swing-and-miss pitches that we are going to need coming out of the bullpen.”

Mockbee appeared in 25 games last season, pitching 56.0 innings with a 3.54 ERA and 59 strikeouts. He also made six starts, posting a 2-1 record, and also recorded five saves. Borkovich had 19 appearances with 64.1 IP, logging a 3.64 ERA while striking out 44 batters. He posted a 4-3 record in making eight starts and had one save.

Sophomore righty Nathan Witt will also see action as well entering the season with a clean bill of health.

“Nathan Witt is a young man that was red-shirted his freshman year, got hurt his red-shirt freshman year, so now he is in his red-shirt sophomore year and is finally fully healthy. The velocity is back on his fast-ball and he is a bulldog on the mound and comes right at you. I know he is chomping at the bit to get on the mound and proved to everybody what he is capable of. He has certainly done that in practice and it is good to see him finally healthy and ready to compete for Michigan State,” Boss said.

Other options in the bullpen include junior lefty Keegan Baar along with a pair of freshmen in right-hander Sam Benschoter and lefty Mitchell Tyranski. Baar made 19 appearances last season with a 2.55 ERA with 25 strikeouts. Benschoter was a second-team All-State honoree at Tecumseh High School, posting a 9-1 record with 1.38 ERA and 119 K’s in 61 innings, finishing his high school career with a school-record 252 Ks. Tryanski was a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American as well as honorable mention All Central Region.

“Left-hander Keegan Baar is another guy that has pitched a lot here and I think he is going to have some great opportunities, as well as young guys, Sam Benschoter and Mitchell Tyranski. They’re both freshmen, right handed and left handed, with outstanding stuff, that are swing-and-miss pitchers,” Boss said.

While the only player that the Spartan bullpen lost from last season was Mekkes, sophomore Riley McCauley will be handed the closer duties. Last season McCauley had a 1.59 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13 appearances.

“Closing, Riley McCauley will get the nod at the beginning of the year as our closer,” Boss said. “Riley had a great summer down in Texas and threw very well for us last year in some relief appearances. I think he has really settled into that closer role.”

The Spartans will play a 53-game regular-season ledger, including the first 17 away from home.

“We are going to see some big time arms early on from UNC Greensboro, Furman, Clemson, and South Carolina. We are going to see a lot of really talented guys so it’ll get us ready for a good Big Ten slate,” Boss said.

MSU was tabbed fifth in the 2017 Big Ten Preseason Poll released by the conference office. The league’s coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three student-athletes from their own squads to a Preseason Honors list. MSU’s Preseason Honorees included senior catcher Matt Byars, junior outfielder Brandon Hughes and sophomore pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Alex Troop.

2017 B1G Preseason Poll
1. Maryland
2. Michigan
3. Nebraska
4. Indiana
5. Michigan State
T6. Iowa
T6. Minnesota

MICHIGAN STATE PLAYERS ON 2017 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON HONORS LIST
Matt Byars, C, Sr., Michigan State
Brandon Hughes, OF, Jr., Michigan State
Alex Troop, UTIL, So., Michigan State





 

 

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