Michigan State Meets Illinois And Michigan In Weekend Pod Play In Ann Arbor

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MICHIGAN STATE (4-4, 4-4 B1G) vs ILLINOIS (4-4, 4-4 B1G) / at No. 13 MICHIGAN (7-1, 7-1 B1G)                                                                      
Location Ray Fisher Stadium  ||  Ann Arbor, Mich.
Tickets NO TICKETS – families only
Weather High/Low – Sat: 56° / 26° | Sun: 64° / 33° | Mon: 69° / 39°
Game Notes Michigan State |  Illinois  |  Michigan
Social Media  @statebaseball | MichiganStateBaseball @statebaseballgogreen 
Television None
Game 1 Saturday, Mar. 20 – 4 p.m. ET – MSU vs. ILL
Probable Pitching Matchup ILL: #45 RHP Ty Rybarczyk (SO)    (1-1, 9.35 ERA)
MSU: #30 RHP Mason Erla (R-JR)    (1-1, 4.50 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Watch Live on Big Ten Network+ ($) | Listen Live
Game 2 Sunday, Mar. 21 – 12 p.m. ET – MSU vs. ILL
Probable Pitching Matchup ILL: #27 LHP Cole Kirschsieper (R-FR)    (1-1, 4.82 ERA)
MSU: #8 RHP Sam Benschoter (SR)    (1-1, 10.64 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Watch Live on Big Ten Network+ ($) | Listen Live 
Game 3 Sunday, Mar. 21 – 4 p.m. ET – MSU at MICH
Probable Pitching Matchup UM: #47 LHP Jacob Denner (SO)    (1-0, 4.05 ERA)
-OR- #21 LHP Ben Dragani (R-JR)     (2-0, 0.00)
MSU: #44 Adam Berghorst (FR)    (1-0, 3.12 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Watch Live on Big Ten Network+ ($) | Listen Live 
Game 4 Monday, Mar. 22 – 4 p.m. ET – MSU at MICH
Probable Pitching Matchup UM: #29 RHP Blake Beers (SR)    (0-0, 7.11 ERA)
MSU: #46 LHP Nick Powers (FR)    (0-1, 4.82 ERA)
Coverage Live Stats | Watch Live on Big Ten Network+ ($) | Listen Live

• Michigan State baseball will have its first “pod play” weekend of the season this weekend extended, playing Illinois and Michigan in Ann Arbor, Saturday – Monday, March 20-22 … MSU opens with Illinois on Saturday at 4 p.m., before a split-opponent doubleheader on Sunday, starting with the Illini at 12 p.m., then the Wolverines at 4 p.m., then wrapping up with Michigan on Monday at 4 p.m. … Saturday is MSU’s first game in the state of Michigan since Sept. 3, 2019 with the Crosstown Showdown vs. the Lansing Lugnuts … ironically enough, Illinois was the Spartans’ last college opponent, on May 18, 2019 on MSU’s Senior Day.
 
• Under Big Ten Conference rules this season, teams are playing in several three-team pods throughout the season, with two games against each team … Michigan and Illinois will play Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday at 12 p.m.
 
•Due to the start of the season being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, MSU will play 44 games over 13 weekends in a Big Ten Conference-only ledger in 2021.
 
• The Spartan games will have live stats when available through “Live Stats” links found at MSUSpartans.com … There will be video streams available through Big Ten Network + with subscription fee required, with links also found at MSUSpartans.com.
 
• For the fifth straight year, the TCF Bank Spartan Media Network will carry a live audio stream for all home and select road Spartan baseball games this season … The broadcast will be available exclusively at MSUSpartans.com by clicking on “Listen Live” on the baseball schedule …  Broadcast veteran Scott Moore calls the action.
 
BACK IN THE MITTEN
• Michigan State will be playing its first games in the state of Michigan since Sept. 3, 2019, when the Spartans play Illinois and Michigan in the Ann Arbor pod this weekend.
 
• Michigan State’s last game in the Mitten State was the Crosstown Showdown vs. the Lansing Lugnuts on Sept. 3, 2019 at then-Cooley Law School Stadium (now Jackson Field).
 
•The Spartans’ last college game was on May 18, 2019 against No. 23 Illinois on MSU’s Senior Day.
 
SOTRES SMASHING
• Redshirt-freshman catcher Gabe Sotres hit .556 (5-for-9) with one double as part of the five hits, while playing in three games of the Northwestern series in Greenville, along with five RBI, notching a .667 slugging percentage and a .600 on-base percentage … Sotres also swiped two stolen bases … Sotres now leads the team with a .455 average (5-for-11) on the season, and the five RBI is tied for second on the team.
 
ZAID ZOOMING
• Sophomore outfielder Zaid Walker is hitting .429 (12-of-28), and is tied for the team-lead in extra base hits, with three on two doubles and a home run, matching Joe Stewart … Walker is also tied for the team-lead with 12 total hits, matching Bryce Kelley, and also ties Stewart for team-lead in RBI with six apiece.
 
JOE GOES DEEP
• Senior outfielder/infielder Joe Stewart smashed his first career home run, going deep over the Green Monster at Fluor Field for a 3-run HR in the seventh, giving MSU a 5-3 lead, before Northwestern was on a walk-off … Stewart is hitting .333 (7-of-21) and shares the extra base hits team-lead with Zaid Walker, as Stewart has three, knocking a double, triple and home run … Stewart also is tied with Walker for the team-lead in RBI with six, while leading the team with a .619 slugging percentage.
 
ZAID WALKER TABBED BIG TEN BASEBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
• Michigan State’s Zaid Walker has been named the Big Ten Baseball Player of the Week for the opening week of the 2021 season, announced Wednesday by the conference office.
 
This is the second-straight season that Michigan State has collected the B1G Player of the Week award after the opening weekend of the season, as Bryce Kelley garnered the honor last season on Feb. 17, 2020 after the first weekend of play.
 
Walker, a sophomore outfielder from Homewood, Illinois, hit a team-leading .462 (6-13), with five RBI and one double, logging a .538 slugging percentage and scoring three runs in helping Michigan State win three of four games against Maryland in Greenville, South Carolina in the opening weekend of the 2021 season.
 
He had at least one hit in all four games, including going 3-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored in MSU’s 7-4 win in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader.
 
Walker also beat out an infield single to keep MSU’s rally going in the seventh inning of Saturday’s nightcap of the twinbill, to drive in what turned out to be the game-winning run, completing the Spartans’ comeback after a 4-0 lead by Maryland, in the 5-4 Victory for MSU.
 
This is Walker’s first career B1G Player of the Week honor, adding to his B1G award collection that includes Big Ten All-Freshman Team accolades in 2019.
 
Michigan State has collected two of the last three Big Ten Player of the Weeks awarded, as Walker’s teammate Peter Ahn collected the accolade March 2, 2020, the second-to-last recognition of the 2020 season before the remainder of the season was canceled.  The Spartans have also collected three of the last five Player of the Week honors, with Kelley’s first week honor last season, as there were only four awards before the season was halted.
 
BERGHORST PICKS UP FIRST CAREER W
• Freshman pitcher Adam Berghorst collected his first career win vs. Northwestern on March 13 … Berghorst went a career-long 5.0 IP and tied a career-best with three strikeouts, while yielding just two hits, one run on no walks.
 
BENSCHOTER-ING BOOGIE
• Senior right-hander Sam Benschoter fired a career-high 10 strikeouts in a 6-0 shutout Victory for MSU over Maryland in the 2021 season-opener on March 5 at Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina, going a career-high 8.0 innings.
 
In MSU’s first game since March 8, 2020, before the rest of the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Benschoter didn’t show any signs of layoff, as he provided much of the excitement on the night, and was dealing, scattering just five hits to a Maryland offense that hit .258 as a team, and the Spartan hurler stymied the Terrapin offense, shutting them out after they led the Big Ten last year with 111 runs in 15 games (7.4 runs per game, including striking out well-decorated Preseason Award winner Maxwell Costes twice as part of holding him to 0-3
 
Benschoter also out-dueled Maryland starting pitcher Sean Burke, who was selected as the Big Ten Preseason Pitcher of the Year. Burke went 6.0 IP with 13 strikeouts, but the Spartans scored three runs off of him, as along with plating the pair of runs in the first, added a run in the sixth … There were approximately 30 scouts on hand to watch the Big Ten baseball opener, and they witnessed a superb Benschoter outing.
 
BENSCHOTER-ING BOOGIE
• Redshirt-junior pitcher Mason Erla was also dealing in his opening outing of the 2021 season, firing eight strikeouts in 6.0 IP, scattering six hits and yielding three runs in game one of the doubleheader on March 6.
 
BIG WILL-Y STYLE
• Redshirt-freshman relief pitcher William Christophersen came on in relief in the second game on March 6, going 5.0 IP with a career-high seven strikeouts … Christophersen’s earned the win in the same site of his first career victory, coming at Fluor Field on March 1, 2020 vs. Ball State.
 
IVERSON TALKING ABOUT ENDING GAME
• Junior infielder/pitcher Zach Iverson closed out all three of MSU’s wins, despite not getting a save in the opener, but coming back to chalk up two saves in the Spartan sweep of the twinbill on March 6, capping both saves with strikeouts … Iverson’s pitching line for the weekend was three appearances, with 1.2 IP, two saves, four strikeouts, no walks and just one hit for a 0.00 ERA.
 
Iverson started all three of the pitching appearances at third base, before coming on to pitch … in the opener on March 5, Iverson took over in the top of the ninth, and after hitting first batter, came back with a vengeance by ringing up a pair of strikeouts, then getting a ground out to end it.
 
In the first game of doubleheader on March 6, the seven-inning contest, Iverson came on with two outs in the top of the seventh and promptly struck out Maryland’s highly decorated hitter Maxwell Costes to end the game and seal the Victory for MSU.
 
In the nightcap, Iverson again took the mound after playing third, and after yielding a single, again chalked up a punchout to end the game, earning the save and clinching the win.
 
Iverson also had a solid weekend at the plate, hitting .308 (4-for-13) with four RBI and two walks.
 
JEBB BURSTS ONTO SCENE AS SPARTAN
• Freshman infielder Mitch Jebb had a smashing Spartan debut, going 1-for-3 with three runs scored, along with drawing two walks … in Jebb’s first at bat for the Green & White, led off the MSU lineup and drew a walk and came around to score the Spartans’ first run of the season … after lining out in his second at bat, Jebb tripled in his third at bat of the night to lead off the sixth, and scored on the next batter, Bryce Kelley’s, sac fly.
 
Jebb ended his first weekend of action as a Spartan hitting .286 (4-for-15), hitting a home run shy of a weekend cycle with a double and triple, along with scoring five runs … he also knocked in one RBI and swiped one base.
 
SPARTAN NEWCOMERS
• Jebb was just one of six Spartans to made their debuts for the Green & White in the opening weekend, as freshman lefty Nick Powers made his Spartan debut by starting Sunday’s series finale, and went 5.0 IP, scattering three hits while striking out six, yielding two runs.
 
Freshman first baseman Brock Vradenburg also started Sunday’s game, going 1-for-3 with a run scored on offense, while making a pair of nifty defensive plays in the top of the eighth, chasing down a foul ball and catching it near the stands for the first out of the inning, then on the next out, made a nice snag on a scorcher down the line, scooping and tossing to junior relief pitcher Wyatt Rush covering the bag.
 
Sophomore Burrell Jones also made his Spartan debut Sunday … the right-hander pitched 2.0 IP of relief, chalking up two strikeouts.
 
Freshman infielder Trent Farquhar came on to play second base as a defensive sub in the top of ninth of Friday’s opener.
 
Junior pitcher Jordan Beatson made the first appearances of their MSU career. Beatson transferred to Michigan State from Furman, after they discontinued baseball, and is from nearby Columbia, South Carolina, and made a relief appearance Saturday night.
 
KELLEY CLOSING IN ON STOLEN BASE KING CROWN
• Senior outfielder Bryce Kelley swiped three bases in the opening weekend, leaving him just four from tying, five from breaking, the Michigan State career stolen base record … Kelley now has swiped 75 bases in his career, closing in on Anthony Cheky (2012-15) with the stolen base record of 79.
 
1.         Anthony Cheky            79        2012-15
2.         Bryce Kelley    75        2017-pres.
 
 
THREE SPARTANS TABBED BIG TEN PRESEASON PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Three Michigan State baseball players earned Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch honors, as the conference announced its preseason honors list and preseason poll ahead of Friday’s 2021 season openers around the league.
 
The conference coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three student-athletes from their own squads to a Preseason Honors list.
 
Junior pitcher Mason Erla, senior outfielder Bryce Kelley and senior infielder Bailey Peterson earned the preseason recognition.
 
• Erla collects his third preseason accolade, as he was a Preseason All-American by Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball.
 
The Spartan pitcher was a postseason Second-Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, becoming Michigan State’s first All-American since 2015 when relief pitcher Dakota Mekkes was a Third-Team National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) All-American. Erla was the Spartans’ first starting pitcher to earn All-American accolades since 1998, when Mark Mulder was a Third-Team Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger All-American.
 
A native of Cass City, Michigan, Erla posted a 2-0 record with a paltry 1.04 ERA in four starts, firing 42 strikeouts with only four overall runs allowed, with three earned, and just six walks in 26.0 IP. He ranked second in the B1G and 10th in the NCAA with 42 strikeouts, along with being tied for sixth in the conference with eight strikeouts looking. Erla also ranked second in the league and 49th in the nation with a 1.04 ERA, and ranked 16th in conference with a .211 batting average against. Additionally, Erla ranked fourth in the B1G and tied for 30th in the NCAA with 14.54 strikeouts per nine innings, along with ranking tied for fourth in the league and 74th in the nation with a 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
 
Erla was named the Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Week and one of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s National Players of the Week on March 10 for his performance vs. Troy on March 6 in which he fired a career-high 12 strikeouts, and had a no-hitter going for 5.2 IP, not allowing a hit until the sixth inning to lead Michigan State to a 1-0 win over Troy in a Friday night pitchers’ duel. The Spartan hurler ended with 12 strikeouts over 7.0 IP, allowing just two hits, going 5.2 IP of no-hit baseball, before a single in the sixth and a bloop wind-aided, wind-blown double in the seventh. He didn’t allow a Troy base-runner to touch second base until the seventh inning, as he rang up a three-up, three-down inning in the first, second, fourth and fifth frames, and didn’t face more than four Troy batters in any inning, as the Trojans came into the game hitting .320 as a team.
 
The 12 strikeouts vs. Troy was Erla’s new career-high, marking the third time this season that he has set or tied a new career-best in four appearances. Erla tallied 11 Ks in the season-opener vs. Morehead State on Feb. 14 and matched that with 11 punchouts on Feb. 21 vs. Merrimack.
 
• Kelley, a native of Rockford, Michigan, was tabbed as the Danny Litwhiler Defensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season as part of the 2020 MSU team awards. He also collected the 2020 MSU SASS Scholar-Athlete Award for having the highest GPA on the baseball team, and was also named to the 2020 Google Cloud Academic First-Team All-District® Baseball Team
 
Last season, Kelley started in center field in 13 games, while starting in left in first two games. He posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage, with 19 putouts and two assists, along with using his speed to cut down several hits, turning several doubles into singles. His highlight outfield assist was his throw to Gabe Sotres for the tag at the plate in top of ninth for defensive walk-off vs. Western Carolina on Feb. 29, to preserve a 4-3 win. Kelley’s other outfield assist came vs. Morehead State on Feb. 16 with a double play on a flyout and doubling-up the runner at second.
 
Kelley joined Peterson as the only Spartans to play and start in all 15 games, and one of three players to play in all 15 contests, along with Ahn. He was second on the team with a .400 average, ranking tied for fifth in the B1G and tied for 88th in the NCAA, along with ranking sixth in the conference with a .486 on-base percentage, and added a .417 slugging percentage. Kelley ranked second on the team, along with tied for fourth in the B1G and tied for 74th in the NCAA with 24 hits. He shared the team and Big Ten lead with eight stolen bases with Peterson, ranking tied for 45th in NCAA, and also ranked tied for second in the conference and tied for 44th in the country with 0.53 stolen bases/game.
 
He was tabbed as the Big Ten Conference Co-Player of the Week on Feb. 17, for his performance in the opening weekend for his first career Big Ten Player of the Week award. Kelley hit .647 (11-of-17) for the weekend, which led the Big Ten by over .100, as well as ranking 15th in the NCAA after the first weekend of the season, leading Michigan State to a four-game sweep of Morehead State in Charleston, South Carolina at Shipyard Park, as the Spartans were the only Big Ten team to win all four of their games on the weekend. Kelley’s 11 hits also led not only the Big Ten, but shared the lead for the most in the NCAA, and was three hits more than any other player in the conference. He had at least two hits in all four games played, including going 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored, adding one stolen base in Michigan State’s 15-3 win in the series and season-opener on Feb. 14.
 
Kelley led the team with the longest hitting streak of the season, getting a hit in the first 13 games of the season, before going hitless in game 14, but had a hit in the 15th game, giving him at least one hit in 14 of the 15 games of the season. He also shared the team-lead with reaching base in all 15 games, joining Peterson.
 
• Peterson, a native of Grandville, Michigan, was voted to receive the John Kobs Most Valuable Player Award, while also earning the Kirk Gibson Offensive Player of the Year Award as part of the MSU Team Awards after the shortened 2020 season. He played and started in all 15 games, one of only two Spartans to start in every game, along with Bryce Kelley and was one of only three players to play in all 15 contests, along with Kelley and Peter Ahn. He led team and ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 22nd in the NCAA with a .441 average, also ranking second in the Big Ten and 35th in the NCAA with a .528 on-base percentage and second on the team and 15th in the league with a .542 slugging percentage. He also led MSU, while ranking second in the B1G and tied for 35th in NCAA with 26 hits. Peterson also shared the team and Big Ten lead in stolen bases with Kelley, swiping eight bags, ranking tied for 45th in the NCAA, which also ranked tied for second in conference and tied for 44th in country with 0.53 stolen bases/game.
 
Additionally, Peterson tied for the team-lead and tied for eighth in B1G with 15 RBI, while ranking tied for ninth in league with 1.0 RBI/game. Defensively, Peterson started all 15 games at second base, making 35 putouts and 21 assists, and led team being a part of five double plays.
 
CAROLINA IN MY MIND AND TRAVEL ITINERARY
• Michigan State is cuing up the James Taylor tune again this season, as the Spartans opened the 2021 season with back-to-back weekend trips to the Palmetto State for the Spartans this season in their annual trip to Greenville.
 
• The Green & White took on Maryland in four games in the opening weekend of the season March 5-7, then played Northwestern in a four-game series back at Fluor Field on March 12-14.
 
UP NEXT
• The Spartans will host their first home game at McLane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field since May 18, 2019, when MSU hosts Indiana in a three-game series March 26-28, with complete schedule to be announced later.
 
Michigan State’s last home game was on May 18, 2019 against No. 23 Illinois on MSU’s Senior Day.
 

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