With the seventh inning looming, the Michigan baseball team was sitting pretty.
Junior left-hander William Tribucher had just tossed five inspiring innings against Lawrence Tech, relenting only one unearned run and propelling the Wolverines (4-11) to a 3-1 lead. Michigan was hitting in stride against the Blue Devils (17-9) and ended the fifth with an RBI single from sophomore catcher Harrison Salter.
The sixth inning followed, and went off with only a minor hitch. Junior reliever Troy Miller had entered the game and immediately gave up a home run. Michael Rinke demolished the ball, sending it past the left field fence on the opposite side of the park. Miller quickly found redemption by striking out his next two opponents. The Wolverines closed out the inning without securing a run.
Then came disaster.
Miller quickly struck out the first batter, then gave up two runs with seemingly as much haste. Miller had racked up two earned runs and didn’t show any signs of slowing down when Michigan coach Erik Bakich made a desperate pitching change. Senior right-hander Jayce Vancena entered the game and allowed four additional runs before stopping the bleeding with a much-needed strikeout.
When the dust settled, the Wolverines had given up six runs off three hits and committed three defensive errors. All in one inning.
“Sloppy,” Bakich said. “It was the little things again, and it’s the little things that have plagued us all year and that is something that we are absolutely laser-focused on and that we are going to work to correct.”
For this Michigan team, it’s a broken record. The Wolverines consistently put themselves in a great position to contend for each game through four or five innings, then sluggish bats and sloppy defense seal their fate.
Michigan has lived by this routine in many of its previous contests, dropping games to Lipscomb, Stanford and San Diego State in similar fashion.
In a textbook example of this pattern, the Wolverines had held the Aztecs scoreless through four innings when they faced them on Feb. 26. San Diego State subsequently exploded onto the scoreboard with a four-run fifth inning, giving it a 4-1 lead. From there, Michigan didn’t have enough firepower to claw itself out of the deficit, ultimately losing, 4-3.
It’s troubling for any team to have destructive habits, especially this early in the season. However, the one silver lining in this disappointing start is that the team now knows what to fix — and has time to fix it.
“We’re not taking care of the baseball and we’re letting one negative play turn into three negative plays,” Bakich said. “If something bad happens, we just gotta be able to shut it down and get back to the positive side of things. What you’re seeing right now is a team whose confidence is shook.”
In addition to regaining confidence, leadership and high-quality play are also needed to aid this battered squad. When one player does well, it seems to carry over to the rest of the team.
Behind Tribucher’s bright performance also lied a solid defensive outing that, at the end of it, pushed the Wolverines into the lead. Things took a turn for the worse once the pitching and defense became sloppy.
“Right now, the defensive side of things is causing the pitching to be out there a long time,” Bakich said. “It’s causing the hitters to get behind a hole and then they start pressing. They’re not stringing quality at-bats together because they’re looking at climbing out of a deficit.
“It’s just all connected, so we just gotta get rid of this feeling and get back to what we know how to do, which is work extremely hard and trust that our training is going to take care of the outcome on the field.”