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Saturday, December 20, 2014

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Michigan tops Illinois in windy Champaign

By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 12, 2014

CHAMPAIGN — There was a shootout at Illinois Field on Saturday.

With winds blowing straight out to center with force, it was no surprise that the Michigan baseball team’s second of three games in a weekend series against the Illini (6-2 Big Ten, 18-12 overall) was high scoring, with the Wolverines coming out on top, 17-9.

Sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes led Michigan (15-19-1, 5-6) off with a base hit through the right side of the infield, and he was immediately knocked in by a two-run blast off the bat of sophomore left-fielder Jacob Cronenworth.

After a shutout loss the night before, that was the spark the Wolverines needed, as they sent nine men to the plate in the first inning — five of which scored.

The Illinois starter, right-hander Ryan Castenllanos, was knocked out of the game after recording only two outs and allowing five earned runs.

After a quiet second inning, the bats for both teams got back to it in the third and fourth innings. Michigan extended its score to 10 in those two innings, sending 13 hitters to the plate.

One Wolverine who took full advantage of the gusty winds was Cronenworth, who belted his second home run of the game in the fourth inning.

“The wind was blowing out, so I just tried to stay up the middle with it,” Cronenworth said. “Just tried to get my barrel on a couple and hit them out.”

Although the Wolverine bats delivered the lead, the Illini started to match much of it, putting up seven runs of their own in the third and fourth innings. A big chunk of that came from a three-run home run off the bat of first baseman David Kerian with two outs in the third inning.

“We didn’t do a very good job with two outs,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We had some trouble closing innings down and have to do a better job at not letting the other team put up crooked numbers with two outs. They scored seven runs in the third and fourth all with two outs, and that’s unacceptable.”

After five innings, Illinois had closed the gap to 10-7, and it would keep its foot on the gas pedal. After Michigan put up a run in the sixth, the Illini followed up with two more of their own in the bottom half of the inning but left the bases loaded as freshman right-hander Mac Lozer delivered a punchout to end the threat.

The Wolverines added two more in the seventh off of a ground-rule double from junior center fielder Jackson Glines and error by the Illinois third baseman on a ground ball off the bat of Michigan junior first baseman Kyle Jusick.

The Wolverines bullpen got the job done in their last three innings on the hill, not allowing a run and closing out the 17-9 victory.

Looking to rebound from a 1-0 loss the night before, the most important takeaway for Bakich on Saturday was the number of quality at-bats.

“I thought the guys responded pretty well after having a couple of tough offensive days,” he said. “(The team) came out and had 33 quality at-bats, and everyone came out and contributed in some way. It was a good team win.”

There were multiple noteworthy offensive performances, including Cronenworth’s 3-for-5 with two home runs, freshman designated hitter Carmen Benedetti going 3-for-4 with three doubles and four RBI and freshman right fielder Johnny Slater, who went 4-for-6 with two RBI.