BY BEN ESTES
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 21, 2010
What began as a solid first weekend for the Michigan baseball team quickly turned sour.
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The Wolverines opened their season in Lubbock, Texas as part of the Red Raider Classic, squaring off with Jacksonville State and host Texas Tech for two games apiece. Michigan opened by sweeping the Gamecocks in dominating fashion, winning 19-11 on Friday and 14-2 on Saturday.
But with one gutsy dive, Michigan’s fortunes completely turned around. In the bottom of the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Red Raiders, junior centerfielder and preseason third-team All-American Ryan LaMarre attempted to snag a shot from Texas Tech’s Scott LeJeune but appeared to injure his arm in the process.
He left the game, and his status remains unclear until further evaluation in Ann Arbor today. Michigan coach Rich Maloney, though, thinks that he may miss "an extended period of time."
“Obviously, that’s going to hurt,” Maloney said of the loss of LaMarre. “Someone else is going to have to step up. Injuries happen to all teams. It’s unfortunate that it’s our star player, but in the same token, we’re a team. Somebody else is going to have to pick up the slack.”
Michigan’s offense struggled from that point on, collecting two hits in the second inning but none after that. Although the game was well played by both sides, the Red Raiders broke the 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth to defeat the Wolverines 4-2.
The same could not be said for Sunday’s matchup. Junior starting pitcher Travis Smith lasted just 1.2 innings and gave up five runs. From there, things just got worse as the Red Raiders blew out the Wolverines 18-5.
“Everybody’s frustrated,” Maloney said. “Nobody wants to lose like that … It was one of those games that snowballed and got out of control and there’s really not much you can do. In sports, when 'Big Mo' hits, it’s tough to turn it back.”
While the team ended the weekend in disappointing fashion, the Wolverines earned some confidence after starting off strong against Jacksonville State. For an offense that finished in the middle of the Big Ten in most hitting categories and struck out far too often in 2009, the performance against the Gamecocks was a welcome sign.
Michigan (2-2) was led by a pair of career-best individual performances. Sophomore designated hitter/catcher Coley Crank smashed three home runs and seven RBI on Friday, while senior first baseman Mike Dufek collected six RBI the next day.
“It was just the guys in front of me getting on base,” Dufek said. "I was fortunate enough to come up with some big hits, and I got some good pitches to hit also. Coach always preaches about going the opposite field, and that’s what I did. I definitely benefitted from that.”
The big question now facing the team is how to replace the production and leadership of LaMarre if the Jackson, Mich. native is indeed unable to play for a significant amount of time.
Saturday, Maloney slid freshman leftfielder Patrick Biondi over to center and inserted redshirt sophomore Garrett Stephens into left, but he says that he will experiment with a variety of different options in an attempt to find the best replacement fit.
Whatever the final combination ends up being, there is no doubt that the Wolverines’ performance will take a hit with LaMarre sitting on the bench.
“You can’t make up what he does,” Maloney said. “A bunch of different people are just going to have to pick up the slack, come together collectively and make up the difference.”
On the heels of a disappointing end to the team’s opening weekend, Dufek described the team’s mood as “pretty somber” after the blowout defeat. But the captain is also confident that the Wolverines' fortunes will turn around quickly.
“We know we’re a better team than this, and we just need to remind ourselves that,” Dufek said.
"I’m pretty sure that everybody’s looking forward to next weekend right now. Can’t wait to get back on the field and put this loss behind us.”