The wheels had fallen off for Michigan hitters.
It was the same old story: Solid starting pitching kept the game close, but a mute offense had put too much pressure on the mound. It happened in the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament for the Michigan baseball team, and on Friday, sophomore left-hander Evan Hill became the third and latest victim of the trend when he surrendered a run in the fourth inning to give Iowa a 1-0 lead.
The Wolverines (13-11 Big Ten, 30-28-1 overall) had gone 15 innings without scoring a run and, with their season on the line, needed a spark to stay alive.
Enter Travis Maezes, again.
The sophomore infielder was the hero of Michigan’s first-round game against Minnesota, belting a three-run homer in the seventh inning to start and complete a comeback win with one swing. Against Iowa, he was asked to do it again.
After the Wolverines scratched across a run on a bloop single with two outs, Maezes strolled to the plate with two runners on in a tie game. He worked a 2-2 count before drilling a line drive for the go-ahead triple, his first of two in the game.
Michigan had scored six runs all tournament, and its leadoff hitter had five RBI.
The key hit opened the gates for the Wolverines, who woke up to pile on 13 hits — including another triple and a single from Maezes —in the dominant 7-1 win.
Teams often look toward the leadoff hitter to lead the offense with energy and consistency, particularly when other hitters seem to be slumping. Shut out Thursday against Indiana and for the first three innings against Iowa, the team may never need a big hit as badly as it did when Maezes hit his triple, saving the team for the second time in three days.
“He’s a clutch kid,” Bakich said. “We need a big hit, he gets a big hit, and right now that’s been the biggest key for us. Hits like that are worth their weight in gold.”
So far in the tournament, Maezes has an on-base percentage of .693, providing the spark at the top of the order Michigan so desperately needs.
“When you’re feeling good at the plate, it seems like you’re hitting a beach ball,” Maezes said. “I’m seeing the ball well, and just trying to put some good swings on it and no do too much.”
Michigan heads into tomorrow’s potential double-header against No. 20 Nebraska with a pitching staff that has kept the team in each game it’s played. But for the Wolverines to be victors tomorrow, the bats must come alive yet again.
“This time of year, anything can happen,” Bakich said. “So we just need to make sure we’re aggressive in our approach, and we continue to string quality at-bats together throughout the game.”
The offensive train is back in motion thanks to Maezes. Now it’s up to him to keep it on track.