- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Liz Nagle, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 9, 2012
New Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich and the Michigan baseball team got their first taste of competitive action at Ray Fisher Stadium on Tuesday, but no one was impressed.
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The Wolverines littered the field with errors en route to an unsatisfactory 8-5 win against the under-18 Ontario Blue Jays in a 14-inning exhibition. (To remain in compliance with NCAA rules, the extended game serves in place of two seven-inning contests.) Michigan’s ho-hum effort showed just how much preparation it needs this off season.
The Blue Jays maintained a narrow 5-4 lead in the 13th inning, but the Wolverines started a rally with luck on their side to mark a four-run frame.
Sophomore middle infielder Eric Jacobson advanced to first base on a walk and second base on a passed ball. Junior right fielder Michael O’Neill tried to sacrifice bunt, but reached on Ontario’s throwing error and batted in the tying run.
The Blue Jays’ pitching staff handed Michigan the lead — Ontario right-hander Sean Ratcliff intentionally loaded the bases before sophomore Kyle Jusick found contact, singling up the middle.
The Wolverines capped the night’s scoring on a pair of bases-loaded walks. But both bullpens pitched poorly. Michigan hurlers combined for a torrent of wild pitches, six walks and a trio of earned runs.
“The errors we made tonight were unacceptable,” Bakich said. “That’ll never be acceptable because pitching and defense win championships. … I don’t think that was up to Michigan standards tonight.”
Though nearly every hurler in the arsenal saw some time on the mound, two experienced right-handers remained in the dugout.
Senior Ben Ballantine and sophomore Matt Ogden were both unavailable to play fall ball. Ballantine is resting his arm through the offseason and will likely be the ace this spring after tossing 74.2 innings with 41 strikeouts last year.
Ogden is recovering from a mild injury after being hit in the head with a baseball. Though he rarely started last year, the Aurora, Colo. native came to be a reliable source in relief. In his rookie campaign, Ogden earned three saves in 40.1 innings of work.
With last season’s graduated seniors, Michigan has a handful of spots to fill in the lineup.
At this point, starting slots are up for grabs, and a freshmen trio — Travis Maezes, Jack Sexton and Jacob Cronenworth — looked promising in the infield.
“You can probably expect some of them to step in,” Biondi said. “I’m not exactly sure which role they’ll have, but I think you’ll see them contribute.”
But it’s the veteran outfield duo that carried Michigan to the win over Ontario, notching familiar numbers and creating timely hits. Biondi and O’Neill combined 4-for-10 with four runs, an RBI and two walks.
The odd man out, however, was sophomore left fielder Will Drake, who remains inactive due to slow quadricep recovery. He swung a hot bat early and often at the start of last season, but on April 11, he buckled running down the first-base line against Toledo.
“(He) needs time to heal and needs time to get back to a hundred percent,” Bakich said. “He’s rehabbing very efficiently with our training staff and he’ll be fine.”
A few missing keys on the field and a slew of mental mistakes nearly led Michigan to its first loss against Ontario in four years. The Wolverines posted lopsided victories against the Canadians in 2010 and 2011, outscoring their opponent by a combined score of 51-2.
But after its woeful exhibition performance, Michigan is actively searching for a spark. After suffering two-straight injury-prone years in the bottom of the Big Ten, a change is much needed. Which is why the Bakich and his highly touted staff hope to give the team a lift with their gung-ho approach.
“The new coaching staff has been great for our program, a lot of energy every day,” Biondi said. “I think it’s something the whole team has really welcomed in and has really bought into their philosophy.”
Essentially, an exhibition means little. But for a team in its rebuilding stages, ready to climb the conference ranks and take home a title, it means something a little more.
“It just gives us a glimpse when we can turn the lights on and play against another shirt,” Bakich said. “We obviously have a lot of things to work on and a long way to go.”