Feb 18, 2012

Spartan Baseball Opens Season in Big Ten/Big East Challenge

Photo from SpartanNation.com
By Sean Gagnier

Baseball season is already here for the Spartans who traveled down to Dunedin, Fla. to compete in the final year of the Big Ten-Big East Challenge. Michigan State drew a tough slate of opponents for the tournament facing off against No. 11 St. John's, South Florida, and No. 15 Louisville over the weekend.

RHP Tony Bucciferro becomes the Spartans ace this season and took the mound in the opener against St. John's, securing a victory on the power of his teammates bats. The team wasn't able to keep things rolling on Saturday when they fell late to South Flordia in a 2-1 loss.

Opening Day vs. No. 11 St. John's - Feb. 17

Michigan State never trailed on the day to St. John's and rode a six-run eight inning to claim an 11-4 victory. The Opening Day win is nothing new for Spartan Head Coach Jake Boss Jr. who extended his Opening Day record to 4-0 in green and white.

Bucciferro stepped up and showed why Coach Boss considers him the ace of the staff and why he was named co-captain by getting his 21st career victory and surrendering just one hit through six innings while sitting down his first 13 batters. On the day Bucciferro struck out six while walking just one.

The performance of his ace pitcher is exactly what Coach Boss wanted to see out of the gates as he is looking to fill the void left by Kurt Wunderlich. Wunderlich dominated the opposition and clearly established himself as the ace of the staff last season - something Coach Boss wanted to see from Bucciferro. If the senior can continue with the kind of stuff he displayed Friday, he will do Wunderlich justice.

Pre-season All American Torsten Boss played his first career game in center field on Friday, a move that didn't appear to phase him as he turned in a 3-for-5 performance with a home run in his first plate appearance and three RBI on the day. Boss had previously played third base the past two seasons but Coach Boss, no relation, said that he felt that Boss was too athletic for the hot corner and could do much more in center field.

The Spartans relief corps looked a bit shaky once Bucciferro left the game, allowing St. John's to creep back into the game, getting as close as 5-4 before closer Tony Wieber came in to shut down the rally. Following clutch RBI knocks in the eighth Wieber recorded his 10th career save, tied for fourth most in Michigan State history.

vs. South Florida - Feb. 18

The Spartans suffered their first loss of the season on a solo-home run by South Florida's Andrew Longely in the bottom of the ninth inning, handing MSU a 2-1 defeat. Longely's home run was just the coup-de-gras in the collapse - the Spartans led the Bulls 1-0 heading into the eighth but following an RBI double and Longely's homer the next inning green and white went home losers.

RHP Andrew Waszak dominated the Bulls through seven, holding them scoreless while surrendering just four hits, walking two and striking out three. The junior looks to solidify his spot in the rotation with a number of quality starts early in the season.

LHP Jeff Kinley relieved Waszak in the eighth and was hit around to some extent, allowing an RBI double with two outs in the eighth before surrendering the game-winning homer in the ninth. Kinley's performance wasn't all bad, the contact pitcher was able to strike out a batter and secure a ground-out before Longely's one-out walk-off homer in the ninth.

The only run the Spartans were able to plate came off the bat of junior Jordan Keur who singled in Joel Fisher in the 2nd. Keur's RBI wasn't the only scoring opportunity the Spartans had as they stranded seven runners, four of whom were in scoring position on the day.

Boss may have some competition this season as Keur is 5-for-7 over the Spartans first two games this season. The Spartans have RHP David Garner on the mound as they take on No. 15 Louisville on Feb. 19.

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