East Lansing, Mich. – The No. 29 ranked Nebraska baseball team (33-17, 14-5) improved to 18-5 since the start of April with a 5-3 win in its series opener at Michigan State (26-21, 8-11) on Saturday afternoon at McLane Stadium. Junior Chance Sinclair improved to 8-1 on the year, while Pat Kelly was 2-for-3 at the plate with his first career two-double game and three RBIs. Josh Roeder closed the door in the ninth for his 11th save of the season, the most saves by a Husker since 2006 when Brett Jensen closed 13 games.
Sinclair posted his seventh outing of at least 7.0 innings on the year, as he allowed three runs on six hits and no walks over 7.0 innings. The Spring Hill, Kan., native retired the first eight Spartans he faced and also the last eight Spartans he faced. Outside of a 25-pitch fifth inning, Sinclair didn’t top 13 pitches in any other inning and faced just three MSU batters in five of his seven innings on the afternoon.
MSU starter Mick VanVossen lasted 5.1 innings after notching a pair of 7.0-inning outings in his last two starts. The junior righty gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and three walks. The Big Ten leader in strikeouts with 65 entering Saturday, VanVossen struck out the first two Huskers of the game, but then tallied just one punch out the rest of the afternoon.
Kelly now has 199 career hits following his two doubles in the series opener and will look to become the 22nd player in school history to join the 200-hit club with a hit tomorrow. Blake Headley also produced a multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 to notch his 18th multi-hit game of the season, which ranks second on the team to Kelly’s 19 multi-hit performances.
The game ended up being a story of two big innings, with the Huskers scoring four runs in the third, while Michigan State plated three in the fifth. Nebraska
Following an eight-pitch second inning for Sinclair where he retired the Spartans in order, NU’s offense went to work with a pair of singles by Steven Reveles and Ryan Boldt to start the third. Jake Placzek plated the first run of the game with a spinning grounder down the first base line that started in foul territory before making its way fair, and Placzek reached on the play when MSU first baseman Ryan Krill couldn’t gather the grounder. VanVossen then get ahead of Michael Pritchard 1-2 after the senior fouled a pair of bunt attempts, but was unable to put him away, as Pritchard worked a walk that loaded the bases for Kelly with no out. The Husker clean-up hitter did his job with a three-RBI double that increased his season RBI total to 49. VanVossen came back and retired three straight Huskers, but not before the Huskers scored four runs on three hits.
Sinclair retired his seventh and eighth straight batters in the third, before Justin Hovis laced a line drive up the middle to give MSU its first base runner of the game. Sinclair came right back and got Cam Gibson to ground into an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
The Spartans got on the board in the fifth with three runs on four hits and a crucial NU error. The inning flipped in the Spartans’ favor when former Husker Ryan Richardson hit a hard ground ball to Headley at first base and instead of taking the easy out, Headley tried to cut down Ryan Krill and third base. Headley’s throw got by Placzek, allowing Krill to score MSU’s first run. The Spartans followed with three straight hits of Sinclair, including a double by Gibson that put the tying run on third and the go-ahead run at second with only one out. Sinclair dug in and put an end to the bleeding by retiring MSU’s No. 2 and 3 hitters, while also stranding two base runners and keeping the Huskers on top, 4-3.
Following the three-run fifth inning, Sinclair got back in a rhythm and retired the Spartans in order in both the sixth and seventh innings on a combined 20 pitches.
Nebraska’s offense then added an insurance run in the eighth, as Kelly led off the inning with his second double of the game and later scored on a RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Tanner Lubach.
With a 5-3 lead, Zach Hirsch took the mound in the bottom of the eighth with the top of MSU’s order up. After Hirsch struck out Gibson looking to open the frame, Anthony Cheky hit a liner up the middle. Hirsch went back to work and retired Blaise Salter and Jimmy Pickens in order to keep the Huskers up two, 5-3.
The Spartans were able to get the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth after Richardson snuck a groundball single through the right side of the Nebraska infield, but Roeder closed the door for good with a 6-3 groundout off the bat of Johnny Nate.
Nebraska will try to win the series tomorrow, when the teams meet for the second game of the series at 12:05 p.m. (CT). Greg Sharpe and Lane Grindle will have the call across the Husker Sports Network, including for free on Huskers.com.