BY GREG AUMAN
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The opening weekend wasn’t what Michigan State coach Jake Boss wanted—one win and two one-run losses against the Big East—but what he liked was the change in his players’ reaction to such results.
“I told the kids, I think four years ago, had we come down here and played this schedule 1-2, we’d have been pretty happy,” he said. “I think these guys have taken this program to a level where we’re disappointed and feel we should have won two if not three games.”
Michigan State is coming off back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1993, including a 36-21 mark last year that included the Spartans’ first regular-season Big Ten crown since 1979, when Magic Johnson was walking around campus.
Gone are last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, first baseman Jeff Holm, and the league’s Pitcher of the Year in Kurt Wunderlich, but Boss has a solid mix of returning talent and promising newcomers, which is why league coaches picked the Spartans as the preseason favorite to win the league. (Baseball America picked them second behind Purdue.)
“We’ve got some young guys who are still learning, reeling a little bit after their first weekend, but that’s OK,” Boss said. “They’re talented, and I think we have a chance to have a pretty good ballclub if we can just do the things we’re capable of.”
Those freshmen include projected starters at both corners in first baseman Ryan Krill and third baseman Kevin Goergen, who went a combined 0-for-13 on their first weekend, as well as rightfielder Jimmy Pickens, who had two hits in the season-opening win against St. John’s.
The Spartans’ best hitters on the opening weekend were returning veterans like second baseman Ryan Jones and center fielder Torsten Boss (no relation to Jake), who combined for 10 hits and two home runs; left fielder Jordan Keur went 7-for-12 for a .583 clip in the Spartans’ first three games.
“It’s a good mix between freshmen and upperclassmen—I think we’re going to have a good team,” Keur said. “The (newcomers) fit right in with the club, and they’re one of us now. We don’t consider them freshmen anymore.
"This program, there’s more talent now, and more expectations. We like that. It keeps us honest.”
On the mound, junior righthander Tony Bucciferro has 20 career wins—just four players in the NCAA enter the season with more—and righties Andrew Waszak and David Garner combined for 20 starts last year.
The league has had deep balance in recent years. Michigan State’s regular-season title came with a 15-9 record, a year after going 13-11 and finishing in a tie for seventh in the same conference.
“There was a lot of parity in the league,” Boss said. “You look at Minnesota, Ohio State, look at what Illinois did in the (NCAA) tournament last year (when it was a regional finalist). There’s good ballclubs in our conference and we can compete with anybody. I’ll take our chances at the end of the year against anybody.”
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