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Michigan baseball drops series to Northwestern

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Max Cohen , Daily Sports Writer
Published April 21, 2013

Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich frequently preaches that pitching and defense are the keys behind all winning teams. Never did that seem more apparent than this weekend, as the Wolverines dropped two games in a three-game series against Northwestern.

The first two games of the series were characterized by dominant pitching, as the Wildcats (5-9 Big Ten, 17-14 overall) earned a 6-0 shutout on Saturday night, and Michigan pitched a shutout in the first game of the doubleheader on Sunday, winning 5-0. In the rubber match of the series — and the second game of the doubleheader Sunday — the Wolverines’ late-inning defense faltered while their offense failed to pull away, costing them the game and their third-straight Big Ten series victory.

With Friday’s game postponed until Sunday because of rain, the series began Saturday night at Wrigley Field. While playing in a major-league stadium was a first-time experience for both teams this season, Northwestern right-hander Luke Farrell pitched as though he belonged, throwing a complete-game shutout. Farrell, the son of Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell, stymied the Wolverine lineup, allowing just three Michigan batters to reach base — all on singles.

“You have to tip your cap to the pitcher once in awhile,” Bakich said. “He forced a lot of weak contact.”

The Wolverines (8-4, 22-16) didn’t advance a runner into scoring position until they had one out in the eighth inning, when sophomore left fielder Zach Zott headed to second base after sophomore designated hitter Kevin White laid down a bunt single. Farrell responded promptly by recording consecutive strikeouts, ending the Michigan threat. One inning later, he retired the side, ending the Wolverines’ 10-game winning streak.

In Sunday’s first game, Michigan received strong starting pitching of its own, as freshman left-hander Evan Hill pitched seven shutout innings. Hill allowed four hits and three walks in the outing.

“I was attacking hitters early,” Hill said. “I still walked a few guys, but overall I kept the big inning out of the picture.”

Michigan freshman shortstop Travis Maezes provided the needed offense with his third-inning, three-run, inside-the-park home run. The Wolverines tacked on insurance runs in the sixth and ninth innings, and sophomore right-hander Matt Ogden pitched two scoreless innings to end the game, extending his streak of scoreless innings to 21.2.

For seven innings, Sunday’s second game looked as if it was going to be the third-straight shutout in the series. Michigan built a 2-0 lead while redshirt junior left-hander Logan McAnallen cruised through seven innings, allowing just four hits while surrendering two walks, bouncing back after a start against Penn State last weekend in which he lasted only one inning.

After his exit, things became dicey for the Wolverines, when freshman right-hander Jacob Cronenworth — normally automatic for Michigan in late innings — struggled in the eighth inning. Northwestern scored its first run of the inning on two singles, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. The Wildcats then tied the game on a fielding error by Maezes.

“Nine out of 10 times, he makes that tough play, but he just wasn’t able to come up with it today,” Bakich said.

The Wolverines failed to respond in the ninth inning, despite good opportunities to score. Zott led off the inning with a single and then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, but he was thrown out attempting to steal third on what Bakich felt was a questionable call.

“The umpire didn’t see it the way that we saw it, the way people in the stadium saw it,” Bakich said. “He saw it the way he saw it and made the call the way he thought he should make the call.”

Had he stayed put at second or made it safely to third, Zott likely would’ve scored after freshman first baseman Jack Sexton singled in the same at-bat in which Zott was thrown out. To make matters worse, Northwestern robbed junior catcher Cole Martin of a likely double to right field in the next at-bat.

The game remained tied until the bottom of the 10th inning, when Northwestern won on a walk-off fielding error by Cronenworth. It was one of two Cronenworth errors in the inning. Like Maezes on his error, Bakich believes Cronenworth makes both of those plays the vast majority of opportunities, attributing some of the struggles to the long grass on Northwestern’s field.

“The real issue was we didn’t separate ourselves offensively from the third inning on,” Bakich said. “We need to do a better job of scoring more runs and separating our leads so we are not even in that position where it’s a nail-biter in the end.”