While the No. 15 Michigan baseball team is looking to continue its momentum from last year’s NCAA Super Regional run, it knows that no matchup will be easy. This was apparent last season after the Wolverines began the 2015 campaign 2-5, falling to the likes of Tennessee Tech, Long Beach State and Davidson.
This weekend, as Michigan prepares to open its season against Canisius, it hopes to avoid a repeat of last season. The Golden Griffins, who won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last year, are heavily favored to win their conference again this season.
“We haven’t had good opening weekends the past three years,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Whether we had lost all the games or won all the games, I would still tell you that the past is a reference, not a place of residence. It has nothing to do with what’s going to happen this week.”
While the Wolverines’ early-season struggles were a concern last year, they are kicking off this season at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie, Fla., one of the biggest stadiums the Wolverines will play in and a place where they swept Siena in a four-game series last season.
“It’s a big park, 420 feet to centerfield,” Bakich said. “I wouldn’t expect there to be a lot of home runs. A field is a field, and dimensions are dimensions. We’re going to go as hard as we can between the white lines. ”
Despite not being an NCAA powerhouse, Canisius may hold an advantage on the basepaths. In 2015, the Golden Griffins stole 76 bases compared to Michigan’s 53. Both teams are also nearly even in the home-run department, with Canisius hitting 34 to Michigan’s 33 last year.
Michigan has had more time to practice before the season-opener than in years past thanks to milder winter weather, but many questions about the 2016 team are waiting to be answered this weekend, especially with the pitching staff.
Though the Wolverines have lost some of their offensive firepower from last season, namely losing catcher Kendall Patrick to graduation, they are looking to make up for that on the mound. With so many viable pitchers, the series against Canisius will help Bakich sort out who will be used primarily as weekend starters and who will be used in relief.
Most of the pitching hype has surrounded senior left-hander Evan Hill, junior left-hander Brett Adcock and sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof, but at the baseball team banquet Feb. 12, Bakich spoke glowingly about other promising pitchers who could see more spot starts and relief appearances this year. This list included redshirt freshman left-hander Grant Reuss, sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie, sophomore right-hander Jayce Vancena and junior right-hander Keith Lehmann.
Though Canisius may not be a household name in collegiate baseball, Bakich still believes it will be a competitive series.
“We expect a good challenge,” Bakich said. “They’re a good program. They’re well-coached. They’re going to play hard. It will be a great test early on. Even though we and our players are focused on getting better today, we’ve done a good job scouting so we can simplify our plan for the guys.”
This is the first time in Bakich’s career as the Wolverines’ head coach that they are nationally ranked to begin the season, and Canisius will be a litmus test for this team’s potential.