Outplayed. It’s as simple as that.
On Saturday, the Michigan baseball team (14-5 Big Ten, 31-16 overall) fell yet again in blow-out fashion to Illinois (13-7, 29-16), this time falling 10-4.
After a scoreless first inning for both teams, it appeared that the day’s contest could possibly see more competitive play from the Wolverines than the previous day’s 10-3 rout.
These hopeful thoughts were quickly extinguished with one swing of the bat from the Illini’s third baseman Grant Van Scoy — batting eighth in the order.
Van Scoy cranked a two-run home run well over the left field wall and was boisterously mobbed by his teammates while he returned to the dugout. It was as if Illinois was telling the Wolverines to fear every batter in their order.
While yesterday’s ferocious offense saw the Illini’s usual suspects have tremendous days at the plate — first baseman Bren Spillane, designated hitter Michael Massey and left fielder Doran Turchin — today’s contest featured different stars.
Van Scoy went three-for-five from the box knocking his first career home run while center fielder Zac Taylor came up big and slapped a three-run home run of his own to left field.
“They’re all good hitters,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Up and down their lineup, they’ve got a good hitting team. A couple guys got the big hits like Spillane yesterday, but it was other guys today. They had production from the bottom of their order.”
Attempting to silence the uproar of Illinois’ offense was freshman left-hander Ben Dragani. Entering the game as one of the Wolverines’ most effective starters, hopes were high that the Illini would not be able to repeat the previous day’s outpouring of runs.
After four innings, this was largely the case. Only four runs had been scored all off the bat of Van Scoy — a home run in the second inning and a two-RBI single in the fourth.
Then, things got out of hand in the sixth inning.
Turchin cranked a double to deep left-center field, and Dragani was pulled in favor of senior right-hander Alec Rennard. While hindsight is 20-20, this would prove to be Michigan’s most costly mistake.
Rennard relented hit-after-hit and left the game that very same inning after giving up five earned runs and securing only two outs.
“They were tattooing some balls pretty good and it was just one of those days where you make a call to the bullpen and it doesn’t work out for ya,” Bakich said. “That certainly wasn’t the plan, but it is what it is now. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback and go through all the different scenarios of what we could’ve done different, but the reality is we just gotta play better and compete better and get back to the positive side of things.”
In terms of positives for the Wolverines, they exist but were hard to find on Saturday.
Shining in relief was freshman left-hander Angelo Smith. The first-year embodied the duality of Michigan’s pitching staff, as he tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief while walking two batters and hitting two more.
“He was effectively wild today,” Bakich said. “He had a couple of hit-by-pitches, a few sprayed balls, but he made some big pitches when he needed to as well, had some defensive help as well, so sometimes effectively wild can be a good thing, and it seemed to serve him well today.”
Also serving as a ray of hope for Michigan was its late-game offense. Seemingly waking up in the latter half of the game, the Wolverines plated all four of their runs in the last four innings. While coming too-little too-late, a two-run ninth inning rally could’ve shown Michigan what it takes to hit against a Big Ten powerhouse.
However, unless they resolve their defensive woes, the Wolverines will be consistently fighting uphill battles. Committing three errors, it’s clear that Michigan needs to remember to execute.
Bakich understands better than anyone what it takes to not get outplayed.
“We just need to play well,” Bakich said. “I mean, we haven’t played well in any phase, so we just need to play well. Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen, but we just need to have competitive play and be ready to get after it. Compete for Michigan because what we’ve done the past few days has not been representing the block-M well at all.”