BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 30, 2007
EAST LANSING - Michigan coach Rich Maloney and his players called it a battle. But at the end of the weekend, the scores didn't even reflect a fight.
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With 61 hits and 50 runs in four games, No. 23 Michigan (15-1 Big Ten, 30-8 overall) commandingly swept Michigan State in this weekend's home-and-home series. While slugging their way to their most impressive offensive display this season, the Wolverines worked through holes in the lineup and minor defensive lapses to assert themselves as the clear leader of the Big Ten.
Michigan had to unexpectedly switch its lineup in the locker room before Friday's 11-8 victory.
With catcher Chris Berset feeling ill, Michigan coach Rich Maloney moved first baseman Nate Recknagel behind the plate and outfielder Derek VanBuskirk to first base.
"It was a surprise situation, but I'm one of those guys who play different positions," Recknagel said. "I'm always doing some sort of (work) at the catching position in practice, but it's been over two months since I last caught (in a game)."
Starting pitcher Zach Putnam earned the win, allowing all eight Spartan runs but striking out a career-high nine batters with his 94-mph fastball. He also led the team offensively, hitting 3-for-5 with five RBI. Michigan tallied 16 hits and scored at least one run in six of the nine innings, but Michigan State (6-13, 15-22) kept the game close with four-run innings in the first and seventh.
"It was a strange game, very unusual," Maloney said. "I think we didn't play our best, that's for certain. (When) you get 16 hits off of somebody's number one (pitcher), that's pretty special, but the flip side of it was that we gave up the big inning twice."
Michigan had 24 combined hits in Saturday's 8-0 and 10-4 victories. Sophomore Mike Wilson (7-0) started the day by pitching a complete game and allowing just two Spartan hits to further reduce his Big Ten-leading 1.54 ERA.
Junior Nate Recknagel started Saturday's scoring with a two-run home run to left center field in the bottom of the first inning. Senior Eric Rose and junior Doug Pickens both went 3-for-3 and contributed runs to Michigan's four-run fourth inning.
The second game was decided by a six-run third inning, four of which came from Rose's two-out grand slam to left field on a full count.
"It was a good situation to hit a homerun," Rose said. "The baserunners were going, and my goal was actually just to get a hit, because I knew if I got a hit I would score a couple runs. Luckily, he gave me a good pitch to hit, I got on it and drove it."
Michigan only sealed Sunday's 21-9 victory during the game's last three innings. After jumping to a 7-0 lead, the Wolverines found themselves in a 9-9 tie in the sixth. They retaliated with a five-run seventh and six-run eighth inning, led by sophomore Jason Christian's game-winning, two-RBI double. Berset, Rose and sophomore Adam Abraham led the team with three hits each.
"Getting 21 runs means our offense is clicking on all cylinders," Berset said. "I think we might not have had our 'A' game today, but we just kept getting the big hits, inning after inning. Good teams win when they don't have their best stuff."
After winning 15 of 16 Big Ten games and reaching the 30-win mark, Michigan has become increasingly intimidating. But even after this weekend's unprecedented offensive performance, the Wolverines feel that they still need to allow fewer "big innings" and reduce the number of defensive mistakes to succeed in the postseason.
"If we want to be a national team, we need to dominate - we don't have any time to relax," Maloney said. "My challenge to the guys was, 'Do you think today, you could beat Rice? Could you beat Arkansas?' because I think we can still play better than we did today. I thought we really hit well, but I don't think we played our best baseball."