The Michigan State Spartan baseball team is playing for a championship in the last week of the season. If you told many that Spartan fans would be able to utter these words in late May, you probably would have had quite a few people rolling on the floor laughing at you. But who’s laughing now?
The Spartans still cling to a 1 game lead in the conference with 2 games left, tonight and Saturday, against Northwestern. If Michigan State can sweep the Wildcats, and they’ve already gotten one win against them on Thursday, they will win the program’s first conference championship in the Jake Boss era.
Many may not have thought this possible, even as recently as last week when the Spartans were swept by Indiana. Jake Boss explained his feelings that weekend: “Any time you get a lead like that you’re seemingly in control of the ball game, and you give up the lead, it’s tough.” However, Boss was still able to look on the bright side concerning the losses. “We struggled this past weekend but got some breaks.” He continued, “We have destiny in our own hands so we feel pretty good.” Indeed the Spartans did catch a few breaks, as they were able to hang on to their Big Ten lead despite a relatively lackluster performance in Bloomington.
Boss understands, however, that bumps in the road like those experienced last weekend are part of the learning process for a program that hasn’t won in a very long time. He explained that his team needs to learn how to win mentally, not just physically, to capture a championship. “There are a lot of things that go into it beyond talent,” he said, “maybe that’s a little bit of what happened last weekend.” Boss knows that bad series are what can make a program though. He said, “We can use last weekend as a learning experience, and we still find ourselves in first place.” If his team latches on to this attitude the Spartans could be the favorites to grab the title this weekend.
But a team is nothing without its players, and if the Spartans want to win a championship this weekend, one of its most important cogs, Brandon Eckerle, will need to show up in a big way. Boss had only glowing things to say regarding his star player. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s learned to tailor his game to his ability.” He went on to clarify his comments by saying, “He’s not going to hit for a lot of power, so any time he hits the ball in the air he’ll probably be out,” and continued, “He hits a lot of seeing eye singles and a lot of infield singles and for a kid that runs that well, speed is the one tool that you can’t teach. He certainly has that.” If Eckerle is on his game this weekend it will go a long way to the Spartans getting the sweep they need to assure a championship.
Whether the Spartans bring home a trophy this weekend or not, one thing is certain: The rebuilding of the Michigan State baseball program is well ahead of schedule. Coach Boss said it best when he stated, “Win or lose there’s a right way to play the game, and I think we’re getting there.” The Spartans may not be all the way there yet, but they are certainly getting there, and bringing a little hardware back to the banks of the Red Cedar would move this program another step closer to being “there.”