- Tracy Ko/Daily
By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 27, 2014
This weekend had major playoff implications for the Michigan baseball team. After dropping the first two games against Nebraska by four runs total, Sunday was an opportunity for the Wolverines to avoid a sweep and solidify their chances to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.
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And that’s exactly what Michigan (9-9 Big Ten, 19-24-1) did, winning the series finale, 7-5.
Though Michigan would ultimately come out on top, both teams came out hot early, making it anyone’s game. The Cornhuskers (10-5 Big Ten, 28-17) took advantage of Michigan fifth-year senior left-hander Logan McAnallen’s early inability to throw strikes early in the at-bat, reaching base via a one-out walk. McAnallen fell behind again on the next batter and paid for it when outfielder Michael Pritchard sent a ball down the third-base line for a double, which put runners at second and third base with one out.
Nebraska pushed one run across on a groundout, but stranded the other runner on second as McAnallen got infielder Blake Headley to fly out to center field, ending the inning and limiting the damage.
Without missing a beat, the Wolverines fought back with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning. The rally started with a hit up the middle from sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes. Sophomore first baseman Jacob Cronenworth followed with a sacrifice bunt that wasn’t handled cleanly by Nebraska pitcher Aaron Bummer, allowing him to reach base safely.
Another sacrifice bunt by junior center fielder Jackson Glines — handled properly this time by the Cornhuskers — followed and led to an RBI for senior catcher Cole Martin and freshman designated hitter Carmen Benedetti to put Michigan up 2-1 with two outs.
Freshman left fielder Jackson Lamb would finish the inning’s scoring with a triple to the right-field corner to push the score to 3-1.
“It’s something we’ve always focused on, and that’s winning pitches and winning innings,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It was a good way to respond.”
After a quiet second, both teams scored in the third inning. A one-out error by Maezes allowed a runner to reach base before he moved up on a balk by McAnallen. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases for the Cornhuskers, who were rewarded by putting balls in play when Maezes booted a routine double-play ball — his second error of the inning. A run scored on the play, cutting Michigan’s lead to 3-2.
“When they scored, we scored two or three and wanted to win those innings and answer back, and we did,” Bakich said. “We had some walks and hit by pitches and usually when we can get that to set the stage for two-out RBI we’ve been successful.”
The Wolverines worked to swing momentum back their way again in the bottom of the inning and applied strong pressure on Nebraska by loading the bases with one out. Michigan picked up two more runs in the inning thanks to a pair of wild pitches from Bummer.
McAnallen ran into some trouble at the end of his start, as the Cornhuskers got the offense moving again in the sixth. A walk and hit batter ended his day after 6.1 innings, allowing two earned runs. Junior right-hander James Bourque was called in for relief with the bases loaded, and induced a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the jam.
The Wolverines added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth due to a Glines’ RBI single and a Cronenworth suicide squeeze bunt.
“That was an outstanding job of execution by Cronenworth,” Bakich said. “We’re just playing percentages there. They’ve got the infield in and it’s a high percentage score. In our minds it’s an easy way to scratch a run across and something that we can practice a lot.”
Nebraska made things interesting in the seventh as second baseman Pat Kelly launched a two-run homer to left field, pulling the Cornhuskers to within two runs.
Cronenworth came in and worked a perfect eighth and ninth innings to earn his Big Ten-leading ninth save of the season.
“I liked the way we bounced back today,” Bakich said. “It would have been easy to shut it down, especially in the middle of finals, but our guys didn’t. They came out tough and battled.”