Dzierwa gets Spartans’ win in emotional comeback

MESA, Arizona — Michigan State baseball opened the 2023 season with an emotional, 15-8, victory over Michigan in the 2023 Desert Invitational Friday evening at Sloan Park.

Six-foot-7, 180-pound southpaw pitcher Joseph Dzierwa (Otsego) got the win in his college debut pitching gem, striking out five, walking three, allowing three hits and no earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched. He faced 19 batters and got six fly outs and two ground outs.

Friday was not only MSU’s first game of the season, but also the teams’ first action after a mass shooting on the East Lansing campus on Monday, Feb. 13, when three students were killed and five were hospitalized.

Michigan State University canceled classes this week following the deaths of the three students – juniors Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner and sophomore Brian Fraser.

Michigan State players wore “Spartan Strong” stickers on their helmets in a tribute, and Michigan also wore special Spartan stickers on their helmets, with a green heart and a Spartan head as support and tribute.

A large contingency of Spartan fans were in attendance, including family and friends of the players, along with a large number of the Arizona Spartans Alumni group, for spirited “Go Green! Go White!” cheers throughout the night at Sloan Park, the Spring Training facility of the Chicago Cubs.

In the game, Michigan, which was coming off a 6-2 win over Fresno State earlier in the day, jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the top of the second against MSU, before the Spartan comeback started with a run in the third and another in the home half of the fifth to close to 5-3.

Michigan State then erupted for five runs in the sixth, bolstered by a three-run home run by junior infielder Dillon Kark for an 8-5 advantage. UM got a run back in the top of the seventh to close to 8-6.

The Wolverines threatened in the eighth, loading the bases with only one out, before senior relief pitcher Wyatt Rush came on and halted the UM rally with a pair of strikeouts, leaving the bases full of Wolverines and the score at 8-6 in the Spartans’ favor.

MSU broke the game open by hanging a seven-spot on the scoreboard in the eighth, to extend its lead to 15-6. UM plated two runs in the top of the eighth for the final scoring of 15-8.

Dzierwa as a four-year letterwinner at Otsego or coach Chase Welker, posting a 5-0 record and fired 70 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched as a senior, only allowing two earned runs with a minuscule 0.38 ERA, yielding only 14 hits, posting four shutouts and firing five complete games in seven starts.

He collected second-team Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association’s All-Ohio Division III accolades and garnered All-Northern Buckeye Conference honors as a junior, after breaking the Otsego single-season strikeout record with 115.

Dzierwa also broke the Knights’ records for single-game strikeouts with 18 and single-season innings pitched mark with 66.3, and also tied the single-season wins record with seven. He finished that season with a 7-3 record and a 2.01 ERA, with the 115 strikeouts and 15 walks in 66.3 IP, helping the Knights to the district finals.

Dzierwa played summer league for Bo Jackson Elite and was also a standout quarterback at Otsego, where his head coach was his father, Matthew, and was a four-year letterwinner in football.

In football, Dzierwa helped the Knights win the NBC championship, and the OHSAA State Playoffs, playing in the regional semifinals. He threw for 2,149 yards with 25 TD and three interceptions, while also rushing for 412 yards and three TDs in senior season.

As a junior, Dzierwa threw for 2,067 yards and 22 TDs on 143-of-238 passing, while rushing for 245 yards in earning Division V Northwest District Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Ohio accolades.

Dzierwa chose MSU over Ohio State, Indiana, Missouri, Toledo, Bowling Green and Army.