Spartans unable to crack Crowe

After Michigan State outhit South Carolina, 9-3, on Friday night, leaving eight runners on base and wasting a complete game from Alex Troop, Michigan State head coach Jake Boss said his team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities provided to them.

With a flame-throwing pitcher on the mound, Saturday’s contest between the Spartans and Gamecocks didn’t provide as many opportunities for Michigan State, but the team aided the offensive efforts of the South Carolina with five walks, two hit batters a passed ball and an error.

A combination of South Carolina taking advantage of Michigan State miscues and a dominant performance from right-handed pitcher Wil Crowe was too much for Michigan State to overcome, the Spartans dropping the second game of their three-game set, 5-2.

“The last two nights, those are two of the better arms in the country,” head coach Jake Boss said. “We missed out on some opportunities, again tonight. Credit their guy, he made pitches when he needed to make pitches and seemed to get better as the game went on.”

On an overcast and blustery day in Columbia, with the temperature settled into the mid-50s by the seventh-inning stretch, the dispirited game conditions were matched by a downfallen first inning for the Spartans.

Freshman left fielder Brandon Gleaves opened the game with a grounder through the left side, scored as a fielding error with the ball skidding under the glover of Gamecock third baseman Jonah Bride. The ball dying in shallow left field, Gleaves’ hustle out of the box allowed him to reach second base. One batter into the game and the Spartans had a runner in scoring position.

It wouldn’t happen again until the fifth.

A sharp groundout to first held Gleaves at second, before the Spartan attempted to take third on a ball that escaped Gamecock catcher Hunter Taylor. Taylor recovered in time to throw out Gleaves and the Spartan at-bat soon ended with a strikeout.

Where MSU was unable to take advantage of the USC misplay, South Carolina pounced on mistakes Michigan State made.

Retiring the first batter he faced on a fly out, Michigan State starter Ethan Landon walked Jacob Olson and surrendered a single up the middle to Matt Williams. Olson advanced to third when center fielder Brandon Hughes was unable to cleanly pick up the ball. Two runners on base turned into two runners in scoring position after a wild pitch moved Williams up 90 feet. Landon bounded back to strikeout DH Chris Cullen, but a first-pitch fastball to Alex Destino was sent back up the middle for a two-run single, staking USC to the early lead.

With eight innings left to play, the 2-0 hole wasn’t insurmountable, and Michigan State quickly responded.

Stepping to the plate after Crowe quickly retired the inning’s first two batters, Troop sent the first pitch he saw from Crowe over the right field wall for his first home run of the season. Right fielder Dan Chmielewski followed Troop’s round-tripper with a single to center. But with Crowe running his fastball between 93 and 97 MPH, it would be the last time MSU recorded a hit off the right-handed until the seventh.

A day after Troop pitched a complete game, the Spartans were unable to have Landon make it through two innings.

Consecutive one-out walks ended Landon’s afternoon after 40 pitches in 1.1 innings of work. Senior left-handed pitcher Joe Mockbee escaped the jam and recorded shutout innings in the third and fourth innings. But the fifth inning for Mockbee and Michigan State was the difference.

Michigan State was unable to take advantage of a leadoff walk issued to Troop and a one-out walk drawn by catcher Matt Byars. A fielder’s choice, flyout and strikeout to close the inning stranded two of the game’s six runners on base.

Their turn at the plate, South Carolina did what Michigan State sought to in turning walks to runs.

Williams helped USC regain its two-run lead with a leadoff home run to right, before back-to-back walks to the following batters chased Mockbee from the game. Following a sacrifice bunt, facing LT Tolbert, an offering from right-handed reliever Jake Lowery, hit first base and caromed into right field to score both runners, making it a 5-1 game.

A hit batter and infield single loaded the bases with one out, forcing Boss match-up pitcher against batters and use the third, freshman left-hander Mitchell Tyranski, and fourth, senior right-hander Walter Borkovich, pitchers of the inning to record the final two outs.

“I left Joe in longer than I should have,” Boss said. “I didn’t pull the trigger when I should have, that’s on me…I thought Joe threw well. I wanted to stay with him for the matchup against Destino and shouldn’t have.”

Borkovich pitched Michigan State through the end of the game, tossing the final 3.1 innings without yielding a run, scattering only two hits. But the strong closing effort was too little too late as Michigan State could only muster one run over the final seven innings.

The scoring closed in the eighth when senior second baseman Dan Durkin singled through the left side and moved to third base on an errant pickoff attempt by USC pitcher Josh Reagan. A grounder to second base by Bechina plated Durkin, bringing the game to its final run 5-2 score.

Troop added a single in the ninth, to lead Michigan State with a 2-for-2 game, scoring and driving in a run on his home run.

Crowe held the Spartans to three hits in 6.2 innings, allowing one run, striking out nine batters with three walks. Receiving the loss, Landon allowed two runs, both earned, off two hits in 1.1 innings, issuing three walks.

Playing the Gamecocks tough over the first two games, but without a result to show for it, the series finale is set for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch on Sunday. Inclement weather is in the forecast as Michigan State looks to try to salvage the series and leave Columbia with a win, not just lessons learned or memories made.

“We got behind early, it was disappointing, but I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight…At the end of the day we need to get better. We didn’t come down here for the experience. The experience isn’t the reason we’re here, hopefully we get one more chance tomorrow.”

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