It also marked the fourth walk-off win for Michigan State this season, and the second of the series – in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Boss walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th as the Spartans claimed a 3-2 victory.
“We ended up getting a big hit when we needed it,” said MSU head coach Jake Boss, as the Spartans improved to 6-0 in extra-inning games this season. “We missed some opportunities earlier, but at the same time, the guys who missed those opportunities were able to cash in on them later. I would rather walk away from today with a win and knowing that we got a little bit better along the way…Fortunately we’ve gotten the right guys up at the right times in the extra-inning ballgames.”
Michigan State collected 15 hits, led by Jordan Keur, who tied his career high with four hits, and Jared Hook, who tied his season high with three hits to go along with two RBIs.
The last seven games in the series had been decided by three runs or less, and Sunday was no different for the Spartans and Gophers.
After Minnesota (23-19, 7-5) tied the game at 4 with two runs in the top of the eighth, Michigan State loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half of the frame for the second straight inning – only to come up empty again. Jimmy Pickens was thrown out at home plate by Gopher center fielder Jake Bergren to end the eighth after attempting to score from third on a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the 10th, Michigan State found itself in the same situation.
Pickens led off the inning by launching a deep shot to the gap in right-center field for an apparent extra-base hit. As Pickens was rounding first base, he collided with Gopher first baseman Dan Olinger, and stumbled before regaining his footing. Pickens then charged past second base in search for a triple, but the Gopher relay caught Pickens at third just in time; however, Olinger was called for interference on the play, and Pickens was awarded third base.
With the infield playing in, Joel Fisher hit a liner between shortstop and third base, but Gopher shortstop Matt Puhl, who stands at 6-5, knocked the ball down for an infield single. The next batter, Ryan Jones, hit a pop fly that landed in front of Minnesota left fielder Andy Hankemeyer to move Fisher to second and load the bases; unfortunately for Michigan State, the ball was too shallow to score Pickens from third.
That set the stage for Boss, who drilled the first pitch he saw to left-center for the game-winning RBI single that finally plated Pickens.
“I was just looking for my pitch and wanted to put a good swing on it,” said Boss, who went 3-for-5 and scored twice. “It was a huge win for us.”
Spartan reliever Tony Wieber threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out three to record his second win of the season; both of his wins have come in extra-innings (Michigan, April 8). Wieber entered the game in the eighth with two runners on base and did allow a two-run single to Jake Bergren that tied it at 4.
Those runs were charged to Spartan starter David Garner, who had another great starting performance in the no decision. Garner re-entered the weekend rotation last weekend at Indiana, and he responded with a career-high nine strikeouts in getting his second win of the year. On Sunday, Garner struck out five, scattered seven hits and allowed four runs, three earned, in his 7 1/3 innings.
After Minnesota scored single runs in the first and second, Garner was on cruise control until the eighth, retiring 15 of his next 18 batters.
“I thought David was very good – he really settled into the game in the middle part of it,” said Boss. “And we feel good about Tony. There’s a good chance when he enters the ballgame that we feel good about the fact that we’re going to win it. Unfortunately he made one bad pitch (in the eighth), and their guy (Bergren) capitalized on it, but he gave us a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th, and we were able to do it.”
The Spartans took a 2-1 lead in the first inning as Keur tallied an RBI double and Jared Hook hit an RBI single. Hook also had a run-scoring single in the fifth that gave MSU a 4-2 lead.
Boss improved his overall record against Minnesota to 8-3 with the win on Sunday. In Big Ten play, the Spartans swept Minnesota for the first time in program history last season in East Lansing, and took two of three in Minneapolis in 2010.
Michigan State will return to action next weekend to face No. 16 Purdue in a key Big Ten series in West Lafayette, Ind. The Boilermakers (31-6) are currently in first place in the conference standings at 12-3, while the Spartans and Gophers are tied for second at 7-5.
“This gives us some momentum going into Purdue on the road,” said Boss. “It’s going to be a big series for us. Fortunately we’ll have a few days of practice this week finally; we’ve been playing an awful lot in a short amount of time. We’ll get a chance to get a couple of guys healthy and get a good couple of practices in, and maybe fine tune some things and get ready to go to West Lafayette.”