Michigan State baseball falls in Big Ten home opener, 4-2

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Campbell Berg

EAST LANSING — Michigan State was five outs away from its first shutout of another opponent in 115 games. It was about to be four.

MSU held a 2-0 lead and Rutgers had a runner on second when RU center fielder RJ Johnson Jr. hit a pop-up in foul territory. Senior third baseman Dillon Kark overran the ball as it harmlessly fell to the ground, extending the at-bat. Johnson tied it up with his second home run of the year a few pitches later.

The Scarlet Knights loaded the bases in the ninth after a double and two walks, setting up senior Cameron Love to hit a two-RBI single, giving Rutgers a 4-2 lead, which stood as the final score.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Spartan head coach Jake Boss Jr. “I thought we played well, but not well enough.”

MSU (10-14, 1-3 Big Ten) started hot, with both of Michigan State’s runs coming in the bottom of the first after back-to-back RBI singles by junior Christian Williams and freshman Ryan McKay.

Sophomore starting pitcher Joseph Dzierwa threw a gem, handing in six scoreless innings while facing just three over the minimum. If healthy, Dzierwa could have pitched longer, as he had only thrown 57 pitches, but Boss said Dzierwa has been battling an illness and was “out of gas” after the sixth.

“Joseph gave us everything he had,” Boss said.

Rutgers’ Justin Sinibaldi, whose recent complete game shutout against UConn made him the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, rebounded well after struggling in the first. He didn’t allow any more runs from the second to the sixth and allowed just three more hits and one walk.

MSU still had its opportunities, despite the low hit total and Sinibaldi. The Spartans had 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the second inning and beyond. They went 0-for-11. Michigan State left someone in scoring position stranded in the second, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and ninth innings.

“I don’t feel good about that at all,” Boss said. “That’s not good enough.”

Rutgers (19-7, 1-0 Big Ten) also had trouble capitalizing on scoring opportunities before the eighth. The Spartans won a relay to the plate to end the fifth, going 7-6-2 to throw out RU graduate Anthony Volpe. Dzierwa ended Rutgers’ half of the first and third innings on pick-off moves at second and first, respectively. MSU catcher Sam Thompson threw out RU senior Cameron Love at third, who had just hit a leadoff double in the sixth after an attempted sacrifice bunt.

Regardless, it had felt like the Scarlet Knights were due. Johnson’s homer that finally got his team on the board was Rutgers’ eighth base hit of the game. Every starter for RU recorded a hit.

“There’s a lot of really good hitters in that order,” Boss said. “They do a lot of things really well. They run well, they’ve got some guys that hit for power. There’s a reason they’re [19-7].”

The Spartans will look to bounce back, as they have two more games against the Scarlet Knights in East Lansing on Saturday and Sunday.

“Tomorrow’s a new day,” Boss said.

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