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Michigan takes series against Purdue, despite disappointing senior day

Ruby Wallau/Daily
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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 12, 2013

It was a bitter senior day for the Michigan baseball team.

After the Wolverines clinched the series victory on Saturday against Purdue, a series sweep on Sunday’s senior day would have paid dividends in clinching a spot in the Big Ten Tournament in two weeks. Instead, Michigan (12-9 Big Ten, 27-23 overall) ultimately fell 12-9, missing a prime opportunity for a sweep and eventually leaving their postseason hopes hanging in the air, at least until next weekend.

But the high point of the weekend for the Wolverines was the low point for Purdue (6-15, 17-30), when it committed seven errors in Saturday’s game. Those miscues, paired with a clutch, five-run eighth inning was enough to push Michigan to a 10-6, series-clinching victory.

Michigan coach Erik Bakich went with his usual, all left-handed rotation for the weekend, consisting of sophomore Trent Szkutnik, freshman Evan Hill and junior Logan McAnallen. But the trio had one of their most difficult outings in recent memory.

“We seemed like we gave up a lot of free passes this weekend, and every time we walked a couple of guys they would clear the bases with a home run or a big hit,” Bakich said. “We can’t let innings get away from us like that.”

Evan Hill struggled to find the strike zone Saturday, walking six Boilermakers en route to giving up five earned runs off four hits. Just as Hill was pulled in the seventh, Purdue laid on five runs off a three-run double, a walk and a ground-out before sophomore right-hander Matt Ogden recorded a strikeout to end the inning.

Junior center fielder Michael O’Neill capped off the Wolverines’ five-run eighth inning with a two-run home run to put Michigan up by five. Freshman shortstop Travis Maezes added two RBI of his own in the eighth, as he batted 3-for-5 with three RBI on the day. O’Neill went 2-for-5 with three runs and three RBI.

“The biggest thing was getting quality pitches to hit,” O’Neill said. “Coach and I worked on it all week. We just worked on pitches that I wanted to swing at instead of the pitches the pitcher wants me to swing at, and it paid off.”

On Friday, O’Neill continued his offensive productivity, as he went 3-for-5 with one run and an RBI. He knocked in the game-winning RBI single to score sophomore outfielder Donnie Eaton in the eighth inning to give Michigan the 9-8 win.

Purdue scored the first five runs of the game, though, marking a lackluster start for Szkutnik. He lasted just 5.1 innings while giving up six earned runs off six hits. His command was up to par, as he fanned six batters and walked only one.

But picking up Szkutnik was Maezes, who continued his recently high productivity at the plate, scoring a run and knocking in RBI of his own. Freshman third baseman Jacob Cronenworth and sophomore right fielder Kevin White added a run and two RBI each to cap off the most runs the Wolverines have scored in a game since April 23.

Michigan’s offense continued to produce on Sunday, posting another five-run sixth inning. All together, the Wolverines totaled 28 runs on the weekend — surpassing their total runs scored in the previous seven games.

“We put a lot of focus on having quality at-bats and getting clutch hits with runners in scoring position,” Bakich said. “We were able to put up big innings at times. It was good to see.”

Sunday’s game looked eerily similar to Friday’s when Purdue jumped out to a quick, three-run lead in the second inning. McAnallen quickly settled down, but ultimately gave up five earned runs off seven hits.

This time, the narrative played out in the Boilermakers’ favor, with Purdue’s offense coming alive with a four-run ninth inning to steal the victory. A bases-clearing double was the key to the Boilermakers’ late-inning heroics that spoiled senior day and eradicated Michigan’s nearly solidified position in the Big Ten Tournament.

“I think everybody feels good,” Bakich said. “The team mentality is very good. There’s a lot of confidence amongst everyone on the team. They just know that they’re going to find a way to put us in a position to win.”

The Wolverines say they’ll be fine, but it could take a good series against Nebraska next weekend to forget a bitter senior day.