May 9, 2014
The Spartans host Nebraska in the first-ever series between the programs ... The Spartans and Huskers have split the previous four meetings, with MSU winning the last matchup, 10-9, at the 2012 Big Ten Tournament.
Saturday's series opener will be the first of seven games in an eight-day span for the Spartans.
MSU enters the weekend at 8-10 in the Big Ten and in a three-way tie for sixth place with Iowa and Ohio State ... Nebraska is 13-5 in league play and is tied with Illinois for second place.
Blaise Salter's 20 doubles are the third most in a season in Spartan history and he needs just two to tie Chris McCuiston (2002) for first place ... His 20 doubles rank seventh in the country and lead the Big Ten.
Salter is also tied for the Big Ten lead in RBIs with 46, which ranks 33rd in the nation.
Closer Jeff Kinley earned his ninth save of the season on Tuesday at Western Michigan, putting him in a tie with Tony Wieber (2012) and Domanick Squires (2001) for second place on the Spartans' single-season saves list.
Michigan State is the only team in the Big Ten with three weekend starting pitchers that rank in the top 11 in the conference in ERA ... Cam Vieaux leads all Spartan starters with a 2.31 ERA, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten, while Justin Alleman ranks ninth with a 2.77 ERA and Mick VanVossen ranks 11th with a 2.94 ERA.
Joel Fisher is in the midst of a team-high, nine-game hitting streak in which he has gone 16-for-38 (.421) with 13 RBIs ... The streak is the longest of the season for Fisher, who enters the series with a .273 batting average - his highest since opening weekend.
Cam Gibson has reached base safely in a team-high 23 consecutive games ... The 23-game stretch eclipses Gibson's previous best streak of 21 from last season ... Jimmy Pickens has the longest on-base streak by a Spartan this season at 25 games.
MSU has outscored opponents by an 88-39 margin in the fifth through seventh innings this season.
In picking up at least 13 hits in four of the last six games, the Spartans have raised their batting average to a season-high .275.
The Spartans lead the Big Ten in fielding percentage in conference games at .982 and have made just 12 errors in 18 league contests this season.
Joel Fisher has thrown out 28 runners on attempted stolen bases this season which is five more than any other catcher in the conference.
After going 12-3 in one-run games last season, MSU has been good again in close games in 2014, going 9-5 in one-run affairs.
The Spartans won at least 30 games for the fourth consecutive season last year ... Entering the season, MSU had more wins (140) than any other Big Ten team over the last four seasons.
Honoring the 1954 Big Ten Champions
The Michigan State baseball program is marking the 60th anniversary of one of the most successful teams in school history with a reunion this weekend. The 1954 Spartans won the program's first Big Ten Championship and remains the only team in school history to advance to the NCAA College World Series.
In their fourth year as a member of the Big Ten, the Spartans posted an 11-2 mark in conference play and a 25-10-1 overall record. Guided by head coach John Kobs, the Spartans won the District IV regional by topping Ohio in a three-game series, 2-1. In the College World Series, the Spartans went 3-2, finishing in third place.
Two Spartans on the '54 squad - Tom Yewcic and Jack Risch - earned All-America honors, while eight players garnered All-Big Ten accolades, including: Yewcic, Risch, Chuck Matthews, George Smith, Bob Powell, Ed Hobaugh, John Matsock and Bud Erickson.
Nebraska enters the weekend tied with Illinois for second place in the conference with a 13-5 record ... The Huskers are ranked 29th in the latest NCBWA poll ... Nebraska is 7-3 over its last 10 games, including a 3-1 road record and a 6-3 Big Ten record ... The Huskers have one of the Big Ten's best offenses, leading in batting average (.305), runs scored (308), hits (517), RBIs (282) and triples (17) ... On the mound, the Husker pitching staff boasts a 3.73 ERA with an opponent batting average of .275 ... Blake Headley leads the team with a .340 batting average - ninth highest in the Big Ten ... Pat Kelly leads in RBIs with 45 ... Closer Josh Roeder's 10 saves are tied for first in the conference.
Salter Among the Best in the Conference
Junior Blaise Salter has been one of the Big Ten's most dangerous hitters this season and currently ranks in the top 10 in the league in seven offensive categories: first in doubles (20), tied for first in RBIs (46), tied for third in hits (61), third in total bases (96), fourth in slugging percentage (.545), tied for sixth in home runs (five) and sixth in batting average (.347).
Salter has reached base safely in each of the last 17 games, producing a hit in 16 of those contests. Over the 17-game span, Salter is hitting .397. He has had a hit in 37 of 46 games this season, which includes a career-long 12-game hitting streak that came to an end March 9 vs. TCU. The day prior, Salter belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the ninth inning of the first game of the series to lift MSU to a 2-1 victory over No. 21 TCU.
Quality Starts = Wins
Starting pitchers Mick VanVossen, Justin Alleman and Cam Vieaux have all demonstrated the ability to put together quality starts this season. The trio has combined for 20 quality starts, going 14-1 with five no-decisions in outings where they have gone at least six-complete innings and yielded three or fewer earned runs.
Vieaux's last six starts have all met the quality start threshold. He has allowed a total of just nine earned runs over his last six starts which have totaled 41.0 innings.
Both VanVossen and Alleman have registered quality starts in seven of their 12 this season.
Fisher Comes On Strong
Senior catcher Joel Fisher has been one of the Spartans' best both offensively and defensively over the last month. He enters the series with a season-long, nine-game hitting streak and has been held without a hit just twice in the last 21 games. Fisher has raised his average by .051 over the nine-game streak and is currently hitting .273, which is his highest batting average since opening weekend.
Fisher is under consideration for the Johnny Bench Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top catcher. He has thrown out 28 runners this season, which leads the Big Ten.
Gibson A Catalyst
Sophomore left fielder Cam Gibson has reached base safely in a team-high 23 consecutive games, having picked up a hit in 21 of those contests. Over the 23-game stretch, Gibson is hitting .353 and has a .314 batting average on the season.
Gibson's streak of reaching base safely in 23-consecutive games is the longest of his career and second longest by a Spartan this season - just two games shy of Jimmy Pickens' streak (March 1 - April 22).
Since returning to the leadoff spot in the lineup on April 22 vs. Toledo, Gibson has hit .382. On the season, Gibson has been the Spartans' leadoff hitter in 33 of 46 games.
Down the Stretch in the Big Ten
Just two weekends remain in Big Ten play as the eight-team conference tournament will begin May 21 at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, in Omaha, Nebraska. Entering play on Friday, the Spartans stand in a three-way tie for sixth place as MSU, Iowa and Ohio State are all 8-10 in league play. The Spartans' opponent next weekend, Penn State, enters the weekend in ninth place at 5-12, followed by Purdue at 5-13 and Northwestern at 5-15. Indiana holds a three-game lead over second-place Nebraska and Illinois.
In Big Ten Play
The Spartans lead in fielding percentage at .982 - .015 higher than their overall season average ... Blaise Salter is tied for the lead in RBIs at 21 ... Anthony Cheky ranks fourth in runs scored with 18 ... MSU's .254 opponent batting average is second, while its 3.56 ERA is fourth best ... The Spartans have thrown out 16 runners attempting stolen bases, which leads the league ... The team's 32 doubles rank second and .383 slugging percentage is third ... Justin Alleman is tied for the lead in innings pitched at 43.2 ... Mick VanVossen's 33 Ks are tied for first ... Cam Vieaux is holding opponents to a .186 batting average, which is third best among all pitchers.
Thank You, Seniors
The Spartans will honor the class of 2014 this weekend as the seniors will make their final appearances at McLane Baseball Stadium. Joel Fisher, Chase Rihtarchik and Mike Theodore, along with student managers Ryan Hudspeth and Joe Simowski, will be recognized prior to Sunday's game.
The senior class has been a part of over 130 wins in their four years and helped lead the Spartans to the 2011 Big Ten title and an appearance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Kinley Creeps Up Saves List
Redshirt junior closer Jeff Kinley picked up his ninth save of the season in MSU's 5-4 win over Western Michigan on May 6, giving him a total of 14 for his career, which puts him in a tie with Brad Lamont (1987-90) for second place on MSU's all-time list. Kinley's nine saves this season put him in a tie with Tony Wieber (2012) and Domanick Squires (2001) for second place on the Spartans' single-season saves list. The MSU record for saves in a season is 11, set by Mike Ericson in 1990.
Kinley saw action in just nine games last season after discovering a blood clot in mid-March that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. In 2012, his last full season, Kinley posted a 2.47 ERA in 47.1 innings of work. He had a 6-5 record with two saves and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4-to-1.
Bullpen Puts Together a Remarkable Streak
The Spartan bullpen has been strong this season, but its best stretch came over an 11-game, 36.1-inning span from March 22 - April 9 where it did not allow an earned run. Eight pitchers combined to go 3-0 with a save, holding opponents to just 17 hits, while striking out 30 batters and walking 12 over the 11-game span.
Junior pitcher Mick VanVossen continues to shine as MSU's top starter, ranking in the top four in the conference in strikeouts (65, first), opponent batting average (.222, fourth) and innings pitched (79.2, third). In his last five starts, he has combined to throw 35.2 innings, allowed 12 earned runs, racked up 35 strikeouts and walked just seven batters.
Alleman Adjusts Well to Starter Role
In his first year as a starter, sophomore Justin Alleman is 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA and is holding opponents to a .212 batting average, which is second best in the league behind teammate Cam Vieaux. The Holt native has proved durable as well, ranking first in the conference in innings pitched (81.1)
After making 22 appearances all out of the bullpen last season, Alleman won his first-career start on Feb. 16 in MSU's 2-1 victory over Wright State. Alleman threw six-complete scoreless innings and surrendered just four hits to earn in the victory.
Vieaux Solidifies the Rotation
In starting each of the Spartans' seven conference series finales, redshirt freshman walk-on Cam Vieaux has cemented his role as the Spartans' third starter. Vieaux leads the league in opponent batting average at .209 and his 2.31 ERA ranks sixth in the Big Ten.
In his last six outings, which have all been quality starts, Vieaux has thrown a total of 41.0 innings, allowing 10 runs off 28 hits, while racking up 30 strikeouts compared to just nine walks.
Notes on the Staff
Michigan State has yielded 373 hits this season (8.1 per game) - the second fewest of any staff in the Big Ten ... The 140 earned runs and 185 runs yielded rank second and third, respectively, in the conference ... The pitching staff has an opponent batting average of .247, which is second the conference ... MSU has allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of 46 games this season, going 19-2 in such contests ... The team ERA of 3.09 ranks second in the Big Ten.
The Spartans will make it four games in four straight days when they travel to Detroit on Tuesday to take on Central Michigan in the fourth-annual Clash at Comerica. Game time is set for 6:35 p.m.