MSU baseball secures final spot in Big Ten tournament

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan State coach Jake Boss

The weather was a bit iffy early Saturday in East Lansing, and you can excuse Michigan State baseball players if they were hoping for a rainout.

After all, a washout of the regular-season finale would've secured them a spot in the Big Ten tournament.

"It's funny, I was talking to our groundskeeper," said Michigan State coach Jake Boss, "and he said, 'You should've let me know. I could've gotten you a rainout.' Joking, obviously."

That would've been some impressive "Bull Durham" stuff there.

Eventually, though, the skies cleared and Michigan State played Ohio State  and won, 8-3, at McLane Stadium to secure the eighth and final seed in next week's Big Ten tournament in Omaha, Neb.

Michigan State will open against Big Ten regular-season champion Minnesota on Wednesday in the double-elimination tournament.

Good thing for the Spartans (20-30, 11-12 Big Ten)  at least, that's how they can look at it now, the pressure of the last week finally subsiding  they're entering the postseason having played several must-games lately.

"It certainly can't hurt," Boss said Saturday night, after he was finally able to relax by taking in his daughter's dance recital and enjoying a late dinner.

"I think there was a little bit of pressure maybe yesterday, and today the guys handled that extremely well.

"I give the guys a lot of credit. They kept their heads right."

Michigan State entered the final regular-season series in a battle with Maryland for that final spot in the Big Ten tournament, then lost the opener of its series with Ohio State on Thursday.

The Spartans entered the ninth inning of Thursday's game up, 5-4, but the bullpen imploded, allowing six Ohio State runs in an eventual 10-8 loss.

That essentially made Friday and Saturday must-wins.

With redshirt freshman Mason Erla, a Cass City right-hander, on the mound Friday, Michigan State won, 6-2. Then it came out strong Saturday and sealed the deal, as Maryland was swept at Indiana.

Michigan State senior first baseman Zack McGuire (Sterling Heights Stevenson) hit a two-run homer, his team-leading fifth homer of the year, to set the tone early. Sophomore right-hander Mike Mokma (Holland Christian) allowed one run in seven innings.

"That could've been a devastating loss for us," Boss said of the Friday debacle. "But our guys have been very good all year long at separating one day from the next. I'm very proud of our team for just kind of hanging in there. They just kept grinding."

Michigan State returns to the Big Ten tournament after missing out last year.

Meanwhile, Michigan (32-19, 15-8) will be the No. 3 seed next week, after being swept in the regular-season series finale at Purdue.

MAC, Horizon fields set

Central Michigan (24-28-1, 15-11) and Eastern Michigan (22-32, 14-13) made the six-team Mid-American Conference tournament field.

That tournament is next week in Avon, Ohio.

Western Michigan (23-25, 12-13) missed out of the final spot. The Broncos are staying home for the first time since 2013 after dropping the final series of the season against Ball State.

No. 6 seed Eastern plays No. 3 Ball State at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, and No. 4 seed Central plays No. 5 Toledo at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, in the Horizon League tournament, which gets under way Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, Oakland (15-31, 12-14) will be the No. 3 seed and opens against No. 5 seed Youngstown State at noon Wednesday.