College Baseball | NCAA Tournament

Portage grad Cheky helps Michigan State to NCAA tournament

2012-05-31T18:00:00Z 2012-06-01T02:14:05Z Portage grad Cheky helps Michigan State to NCAA tournamentBy Jim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com

It's the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

Michigan State freshman Tony Cheky hits a roller between first and second, IU's Micah Johnson fields it and flips the ball with his glove to first, where Cheky is called out in a bang-bang play.

The old Cheky might have thrown his helmet and uttered an expletive or two. The new Cheky clenched his fists, bit his lip and took a deep breath.

"I've matured," said Cheky, known for his displays of emotion while at Portage. "It's a big adjustment I had to make. The coaches won't put up with it. You've got to hold it in, (think) hey, I'll get 'em next time. I got mad, but the next inning, I made a catch, so it all comes full circle."

A year or so removed from his last high school game, Cheky is Michigan State's starting center fielder. He and the Spartans (37-21) are preparing to play Pepperdine in the NCAA tournament today in Palo Alto, where they are the third seed in the Stanford Regional. It's their first appearance since 1979.

"Tony's had a very good year for us," coach Jake Boss Jr. said. "If you'd asked me at the beginning of the year if I thought he'd be hitting .305 going into the regional, I wouldn't have said I believe that, because it's difficult for a freshman. He's had his ups and downs, but it's part of the maturation process. He's started to understand that baseball's a game of failure. To be successful, you've got to accept that. Tony's grown up a lot."

Cheky opened the season in the leadoff spot, but a rough patch prompted a move down to the nine hole, done in part to ease his mind.

"I was more nervous at first about playing time, but it took me realizing they had me out there for a reason, to help the team," Cheky said. "I had to wake up. It's not high school anymore. It's big boy ball. Being a freshman was no excuse. I had to put it behind me and step it into gear. A big reason was the coaches told me to calm down, take things a step at a time. I got more relaxed and things started to fall into place."

In four post-season games, Cheky went 7-for-15, earning all-tourney team honors. He had nine putouts in a 4-3 extra-inning loss to IU that knocked out the Spartans and left them sweating Monday's selection show.

"As the games progressed, he's learned more about the game at the college level," Boss said. "He's getting deeper into counts, figuring out the type of game he needed to play. He runs so well, we moved him to the bottom so we had some speed there to turn the lineup over. We still think he's going to be a very good leadoff hitter."

Cheky leads the Spartans in stolen bases with 15 (out of 18) and is top five on the club in most offensive categories.

"One of the big things they stressed with me is my speed is a key for the team," he said. "I realized I had to get on base. I do that, steal second, the next guy gets a hit, we score, and everybody's happy."

The team's reaction to the bid announcement is a moment Cheky won't soon forget. Now he hopes to help Sparty do something with the opportunity.

"We're hungry," he said. "We feel like we've really got nothing to lose. The Big Ten's not getting a lot of support. We want to make a statement that we can play ball, show what we're all about."

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