OMAHA – The Michigan State baseball team opened the 2014 Big Ten Tournament with a 2-1 victory over Illinois on Wednesday morning at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Spartan starting pitcher Mick VanVossen allowed just one unearned run in six innings of work to earn the win, while relievers Anthony Misiewicz and Jeff Kinley combined to blank the Illini over the final three innings to preserve the win.
With the victory, the sixth-seeded Spartans (30-24) advance to face second-seeded Nebraska in round two of the tournament on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
Cam Gibson gave MSU a 1-0 lead on just the third pitch of the game, turning on an offering from Illini starter Drasen Johnson and belting it over the right field wall for his second home run of the season.
Following the home run, both teams generated opportunities to put up runs, but came away empty each time. Michigan State stranded a pair of runners later in the top of the first and Illinois followed suit in the bottom of the inning after its first two hitters reached.
Both teams put a pair of runners on base in top and bottom of the second, but again the starting pitchers escaped with no damage.
The Illini (31-20) kept the pressure on in the bottom of the third and eventually pushed across a run. An error by shortstop Ryan Richardson allowed the leadoff hitter, Matthew James, to reach base and then a hit batter and walk with two outs loaded the bases. VanVossen then walked Ryne Roper to bring in the tying run.
The Spartans fought back in the fifth, loading the bases with no outs via an infield single by Justin Hovis, an error on a sacrifice bunt by Gibson and then a bunt single by Anthony Cheky. The next batter, Blaise Salter, grounded into a double play, but Hovis came home on the play to give MSU a 2-1 lead.
After the rough third inning, VanVossen responded by facing the minimum in the fourth and fifth frames. A leadoff walk and one-out single in the sixth gave the Illini a chance to tie the game, but VanVossen was able to fan consecutive hitters to end the inning.
â€œMick really competed today. (Illinois) did a really good job of extending at-bats and get deep into counts,â€ said MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. â€œHe got into some tough situations but made pitches when he needed to make pitches.â€
Misiewicz took over for VanVossen to start the seventh and struck out three of the four batters in the inning. He retired each of the next five hitters before giving up a two-out single in the ninth.
Kinley came in and needed just three pitches to get David Kerian to pop up to Richardson at shortstop, ending the game with his 13th save of the season.
The save was Kinleyâ€™s 18th of his career, tying him with Tony Wieber for the most in MSU history.
Wednesdayâ€™s contest was the fourth one-run affair between the Spartans and Illini this season.
â€œI thought we handled ourselves well today. We got in some tough situations but didnâ€™t let the little things bother us,â€ said Boss.
Thursdayâ€™s second round game will be televised live on BTN.