|Sean Gagnier / Gang Green|
The Spartans traveled to Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini this weekend and took two of three games from them; winning the first two contests before dropping the final game on Sunday. During the weekend, freshman Jimmy Pickens had a career series and earned himself conference honors.
Illinois pitching didn't stand a chance as the Spartans blasted 17 hits for 15 runs, recording eight of those runs against Illini starter Kevin Johnson in his 4.2 innings. Johnson, who had been tied for second in the Big Ten with seven wins, turned in a line that included eight allowed runs, seven earned runs on eight hits.
Spartan starter Tony Bucciferro stayed on the mound for 6.1 innings while giving up four runs on five hits and fanning five. He was tagged with the victory on the day, his fourth of the season and 24th of his career.
Pickens had a career day, going 3-for-5 with 6 RBI, a team and personal high. Highlights of Pickens' day were his two run double in the fifth and his bases-clearing triple in the sixth. Pickens' other RBI came on a single in the fourth that plated a runner.
After scoring four times in the fifth and five times in the sixth the Spartans held a ten-run, 13-3, lead over the Illini. Jared Hook would add another run on a solo home run in the seventh and Ryan Krill singled in the 15th run in the ninth inning.
Yet another game went into extras and yet another time the Spartans came out on top - Michigan State improved its record to 7-1 in extra innings by beating the Illini 6-5 on Saturday. The victory secured the Spartans their first series win at Illinois since 2003.
Andrew Waszak tied a season high five strikeouts during his six innings of work; while on the mound he allowed eight hits and five runs, including a three-run home run in the first inning. Waszak calmed down after his shaky first inning and didn't allow another run until the fifth when the Illini scored two more to tie the game at five.
Jeff Kinley entered the game in the seventh in relief of Waszak and continued his dominance of late. Kinley threw 3.2 innings of shutout ball, adding to his scoreless streak that now sits at 26 innings. He was credited with the win, giving him a team-leading six victories on the season.
With the teams tied at five in the 10th, Jordan Keur drew a walk with one out. He then was able to get himself in scoring position by stealing second. Krill then hit a grounder to first base, but due to a bobble Keur was able to come around and score.
With Michigan State up 6-5, Kinley returned to the mound but didn't quite have it any more. An Illinois base-runner was able to get to second base on a two-base error by Pickens with one out. After fanning the next batter and walking the following one, Head Coach Jake Boss, Jr. turned to his closer Tony Wieber.
Runners on first and third and two outs, Wieber recorded his seventh save by getting the batter to pop out and close out the win for the Spartans.
Michigan State wasn't able to complete the sweep over Illinois on Sunday, losing to the Illini, 8-6. The Spartans never led in the contest, but were able to tie things up three different times.
The see-saw match began when Illinois plated a run in the bottom of the second ahead of a Ryan Jones solo home run in the top of the third to tie the game at one. Illinois regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning by scoring an unearned run, but Pickens homered in the top of the fourth to tie the game at two all.
In the bottom of the fourth the Illini scored three more and racked up two more hits in the fifth before Spartan starter David Garner was pulled. Bryce Jenney came in as relief for Garner but allowed a sac-fly to extend the Illini lead to 6-2.
But three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh by the Spartans tied things at six. It was a three-run shot by John Martinez in the sixth that allowed the Spartans to get back into the game. Torsten Boss was able to cross the plate in the seventh after drawing a walk and eventually scoring on a wild pitch.
Jenney allowed a lead off single in the seventh before being relieved by Trey Popp. Popp allowed a sac-bunt, walked a batter and then gave up a single, loading the bases before being given the hook. Wieber was brought in to stop the Illinois rally but hit the first batter he faced. A sac-fly would tack on another run, giving the Illini their final 8-6 lead.
Big Ten Honors for Pickens
Pickens was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week on Monday for his performance in the weekend series against Illinois. He went .500 in the series (6-for-12), racked up seven RBI, scored four times and hit his sixth homer of the season.
Comedy in the locker room
The Spartans aren't all business, take this picture from catcher Joel Fisher. It shows him and fellow backstop Blaise Salter engaged in what Fisher referred to as "locker room chicken."
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