By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 25, 2014
The pinging noise of the ball off the bat grew louder and sharper with each swing.
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The first three innings ended quietly for sophomore left-hander Evan Hill and the Michigan baseball team, as the Nebraska’s hard-hit balls continued to find their ways into Wolverine gloves. But by the fourth inning, Hill’s luck had run out.
Led by a bases-clearing double with two outs, Nebraska’s offense poured on six runs in the top of the fourth inning. Despite 10 hits and a ninth-inning rally, Michigan was unable to recover from the disaster inning, falling to the Cornhuskers, 6-4, in the series opener Friday night.
Though Nebraska came away with the win, the Wolverines (8-8 Big Ten, 18-23-1 overall) looked to be in control early. Leading off the second inning with two walks and the team’s third hit of the game, Michigan had loaded the bases with no outs.
After freshman infielder Trey Miller was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat, the Wolverines took an early 1-0 lead with the top of the order due up, bringing much of the crowd to its feet. With each at-bat, the energy in Ray Fisher Stadium waned, as three straight Michigan hitters were retired in order.
“We’ve got to make contact,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We had two strikeouts in a row with the bases loaded in the second and with runners in scoring position later on, and you have to put the ball in play in those positions if you want to score. There’s no two ways about it, and tonight that was the difference in the game.”
The Cornhuskers didn’t wait long before erasing the Wolverines’ lead. In the fourth inning, Hill — the team’s best pitcher for most of the season —stopped having success. Base hit after base hit, Nebraska wore down Hill in his worst start of the season. By the time the barrage was over, Hill had surrendered six runs on eight hits and four walks in just four innings of work.
“(Hill) looked pretty good early on,” Bakich said. “But in that fourth inning he just wasn’t able to close it out and get the big pitch when he needed it. It shouldn’t have cost us the game and our offense didn’t help him out, but it turned out that was all they needed.”
Following Nebraska’s offensive onslaught, both teams stalled at the plate. Hits were scattered from inning to inning, but no scoring occurred until the bottom of the ninth, when Michigan finally showed some life on offense.
Freshman outfielders Jackson Lamb and Johnny Slater led off the inning with back-to-back hits, and by the time junior outfielder Jackson Glines singled to left field with two outs, three runners had crossed the plate, and the Wolverines had a comeback on their minds.
But in the end it was too little, too late for Michigan, which dropped the opening game of the series between top-tier teams in the conference.
“We missed out on some opportunities to change the tide of the game earlier,” Bakich said. “It was a nice effort in the ninth, but that could’ve been — should’ve been — the game-winner. Instead we were left a couple runs short.”
With two games left on the weekend, Bakich is looking to see his team close out innings on both sides of the ball.
“Good teams win these kinds of games,” Bakich said. “They take advantage of scoring opportunities and they close out innings with two outs, and we didn’t do that. Leaving runners on base and allowing the other team to score with two outs is not a recipe for success for any team.”