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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Baseball fails to pull ahead in extra-inning loss to Minnesota

By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 4, 2014

Jacob Cronenworth took his first, slow footsteps off the mound and walked toward the dugout. The sophomore right-hander stared at the ground as if he were carrying the weight of the game on his shoulders — in some ways he was.

With fans already beginning to leave Ray Fisher Stadium, he descended down the stairs toward the bench, removed his glove and threw it at the wall.

Friday, Cronenworth’s frustration came after he failed to pull himself together to save a game in which he gave up three runs, including one on a walk, in the 11th-inning of the Michigan baseball team’s 9-6 loss to Minnesota.

“We dug ourselves a pretty good hole a couple of times,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “When you have a chance to win the game, you win the game. Otherwise, you let the other team hang around, and then they take advantage of an opportunity to stay in the game and score runs.”

But the blame can’t be put entirely on Cronenworth. The Wolverines’ biggest struggle of the night was at the plate. Even though nine of 14 batters got one hit, it was only one hit, the type of team performance that doesn’t win games in the Big Ten.

When it needed them most, Michigan (3-4 Big Ten, 13-16-1 overall) was unable to complete a comeback in the ninth inning. After the Wolverines had tied the game at six, the Gophers intentionally walked two batters and juiced the bases for freshman third baseman Trey Miller with two-outs.

Miller was batting .091 before Friday and only got worse when he struck out swinging, unable to bring in the walk-off run from sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes.

“With any hitter, they gotta be ready to work early and hit 0-0 with runners in scoring position,” Bakich said. “We had the chance to get the timely hit, and we didn’t get the timely hit. That’s why they call them game-winners.”

What made the loss hurt even more was that Michigan had comeback from a 5-0 deficit against Minnesota (4-3, 16-9) in the fourth inning, when the Wolverines scored three runs, and matched the performance late in the eighth. Bakich has continued to stress his team loves the high-pressure situations, so when Miller stepped into one that every baseball player dreams off — two outs, bases loaded and the ability to drive in the game winner — it was expected he would execute.

Michigan’s pitching looked to be its strong suit at the start of the game with senior right-hander Ben Ballantine leading the effort. His pair of strikeouts in the first inning tied him for second in the Big Ten, but in just a three-inning outing, he allowed four hits and a run with 77 pitches.

The Gophers first scored in the third inning when freshman catcher Harrison Wenson tried to get a runner stealing third, but threw wildly to Cronenworth and the runner easily scored. Ballantine tried to stay in the game, but two hits and a walk in the fourth inning was enough reason to bring in freshman left-hander Brett Adcock for relief.

Adcock had a solid five-inning outing where he struck out five and allowed just two runs compared to the four credited to Ballantine.

“They seemed to be hitting everything hard and Brett neutralized them for the rest of the game,” Bakich said. “He allowed us to come back and have a chance to win it.”

With Miller’s strikeout, the Wolverines momentum quickly deflated. Maezes, stranded at third, angrily rolled his helmet toward the dugout and proceeded to ripping off his gloves. The dugout stood quietly, shuffling around and trying to get ready to play extra-inning defense, and even that fell apart with an atypical two-error performance.

“Tonight, we had nobody to blame but ourselves,” Bakich said. “We’re going to have to forget about this one really fast, and even the series tomorrow.”