Abrams' Game Winning Hit Leads Furman Past Michigan State, 4-3, In Season Opener
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Alex Abrams' stroked a line drive single into left center field to score Heath Burton from third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Michigan State, 4-3, in the 2013 season opener for both teams Friday afternoon in the First Pitch Invitational at Fluor Field.
Abrams' decisive hit capped a two-out, bases empty rally for Furman, which trailed 3-2 heading into its last at bat. Michigan State reliever Jeff Kinley struck out the first two Paladins in the ninth but was pulled after issuing a full count walk to Jake Jones. Kinley's replacement, Justin Alleman, wild pitched Jones to second and then served up an RBI triple to Heath Burton that cleared the outstretched glove of the Spartans' Anthony Cheky in dead center field. Abrams followed with an eight-pitch at bat before delivering an Alleman pitch into left center field to plate Burton.
The rally made a winner of Mauldin, S.C., right-hander Ben Carlson (1-0), who pitched a scoreless ninth to complete a solid performance by four Furman pitchers. Starter Nate Smith and relievers Drake Browne, Ryan Morse, and Carlson combined to record 10 strikeouts with no walks. Browne's outing, which covered 1 1/3 scoreless innings, marked his return to the mound after missing the entire 2012 season following Tommy John surgery.
Alleman (0-1) took the loss for Michigan State.
Both teams collected eight hits, with Jarrod Rickman leading the way for Furman with a 2-for-3 performance and Checky producing two hits, including a double, in four at bats for the Spartans.
Rickman's one-out single to center in the second off MSU starter Andrew Waszak scored Paul Nitto from third to give the Paladins a 1-0 lead. On the play Michigan State third baseman John Martinez's throw to second base in an attempt to retire Rickman sailed into right field, allowing Jake Jones to sprint home from third to make it 2-0.
Michigan State answered with a three-run fifth highlighted by catcher Joel Fisher's towering three-run home run over the left field wall off Smith, who had yielded a single and a hit batsman to open the frame.
The Spartans put two runners on with two outs in the seventh against Browne, who got out of the inning unscathed by striking out Martinez swinging.
Kinley pitched effectively in relief of Waszak, coming on in the seventh and working 2 2/3 innings before getting pulled following his walk to Jones with two outs in the ninth.
Furman will play Northwestern at noon on Saturday at Fluor Field, with sophomore right-hander Elliott Warford (6-0, 3.61 ERA in '12) expected to go for the Paladins. The Wildcats knocked off Miami of Ohio, 8-1, in Friday afternoon's opening game.