NEW ORLEANS -- Michigan State baseball was boosted by senior infielder Royce Ando at the plate and sophomore pitcher Mason Erla on the mound on the way to doubling up New Orleans, 8-4, Friday night in the 2019 season opener at UNO's Maestri Field.
"It's always good to get a win in game one, especially really for our first time outside like this. Our guys have done a nice job preparing, even though the weather hasn't been great for us, and I thought that showed today. We were a little rusty at the plate, we struck out a little too much and walked too many guys, but at the same time, I thought we competed extremely well and made some plays when we needed to," MSU head coach Jake Boss Jr. said.
Friday's start time was pushed back an hour due to early evening rain in the New Orleans area. However, once the game started, the Spartans jumped out early and went on to win their season-opener for the fifth time in last six years as part of nine of 11 under Coach Boss.
Erla overcame some first inning jitters after walking the first two Privateer batters he faced. From then on, he was dealing, firing seven strikeouts in 5.0 IP, yielding two runs off five hits. The seven punchouts is the second-highest of his career and his sixth career outing with five or more strikeouts.
"I thought Mason was really good today after the first two hitters. He started to settle into it a little bit. He got a big double play in the second inning that I think helped calm him down and settle in," Boss said. "I think everyone was excited to play and once we got into the middle of the game, we were all able to relax a little bit and get back to just playing baseball."
Ando had a smashing return to action, after missing most of last season with an injury, by blasting a home run in the second inning in his first at bat of the new season. It was Ando's third home run of his career, after two in his sophomore season of 2017. He ended the game 2-for-4, adding a triple.
"Royce has really swung the bat well for us in preseason practice and even back to the fall season and individual work after fall ball," Boss said. "If we keep him healthy, he's got a chance to be a pretty significant offensive weapon for us."
MSU posted six hits in the game and took advantage of two UNO errors, as well as capitalizing on some wild pitches and walks by the Privateer pitchers. The Spartans yielded seven hits to UNO, as well as nine walks, but rang up 11 strikeouts.
"I think it was typical for the first game of the year. I think both teams were pretty excited to get out and compete, and I think as a result, things got a little sloppy from both teams on both ends of the spectrum. I would expect a much cleaner game out of both teams tomorrow," Boss said about Saturday's second game of the three-game opening weekend series.
Junior infielder Justin Antoncic was 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored, while junior outfielder Danny Gleaveswas 1-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Senior outfielder Dan Chmielewski was 1-for-4 and scored a run. Freshman infielder Reese Trahey was 0-for-1 with three walks and scored two runs in his Spartan debut.
Sophomore Jesse Heikkinen pitched two innings of no-hit shutout baseball in relief of Erla. Junior Caleb Sleemanearned the save with 1.2 IP, getting out of a small jam in the eighth, before later book-ending the ninth with a pair of strikeouts to seal the victory for MSU.
The Spartans got on the board early with a run in the top of the first as Gleaves jumped on the first pitch of the game and laced a double to left center. After moving to third on a groundout, Gleaves scored on a balk by UNO starting pitcher Steven Swift, plating MSU's first run of the season and giving the Spartans their first lead of 2019.
The Privateers took advantage of pair of walks off Erla and a base hit to tie it up at 1-1 after one.
The tie ballgame didn't last long, as Ando led off the second by smacking a shot to left center for a home run.
New Orleans got a leadoff single in the bottom of the second, but it was wiped out with a 6-4-3 double play, which was followed up by an Erla strikeout.
In the top of the third, the Spartans capitalized on a pair of Privateer errors to go with a double-steal with runners on first and third to hang a three-spot on the board and take a 5-1 lead. Antoncic was on first and he stole second and UNO threw down to second, allowing Gleaves to steal home.
MSU stretched its lead to 7-1 in the fourth, plating two runs by taking advantage of bases-loaded walk and later a bases-loaded wild pitch.
The Privateers got a run back in the fifth on a one-out home run by Salo Iza, but Heikkinen, senior Evan Flohr and Sleeman, kept UNO at bay to secure the season-opening victory.
MSU and UNO return to the diamond for game two of the three-game opening weekend series on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m. ET. The Spartans and Privateers will play the series finale on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 1 p.m. ET.
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