BY DAVID MURRAY
Published April 2, 2006
Michigan's performance this weekend resembled many first dates - full of mistakes and missed opportunities.
Against Northwestern, the Wolverines looked nervous and had difficulty closing the deal. In the four-game series they committed five errors and stranded 27 runners on base.
"One thing we preach really strongly is playing good defense, and we didn't play good defense," Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. "If you don't play good defense and you're facing some good pitchers and the wind is playing like it is, it's going to be more about who gets the big hit."
In Friday's game, the Maize and Blue played flawless defense and took advantage of most of its scoring opportunities, winning easily, 6-2. But Saturday's doubleheader was a different story.
After a few poorly played innings, Saturday's date with the Wildcats turned south quickly.
In the first inning of the first game, both third baseman A.J. Scheidt and pitcher Paul Hammond committed throwing errors in a five-run Northwestern spurt. Then, with a chance to chip into the deficit in the fifth, junior shortstop Leif Mahler struck out looking with the bases loaded.
If Mahler's at-bat was disappointing, three similar at-bats in the third game left the Wolverines dumbfounded.
With Michigan trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth, the bases were juiced, this time with no outs. Scheidt came to the plate overanxious to drive in a few runs and swung at the first pitch, popping it up to the shortstop. The next batter, second baseman Kevin Cislo, took a third strike with his bat on his shoulders. Then, with two outs and three Wolverines begging to run across home plate, shortstop Jason Christianson flied out to centerfield.
Those six runners over two games were just a few of the chances in which Michigan failed to capitalize. It left a total of 16 ducks on the pond in the 14 innings played on Saturday and lost both games by a combined 9-2 score.
"We needed the big hit all weekend," Scheidt said. "We would have runners on base, and we just wouldn't get the big hit. So, in a different series, a different world or different day we get that big hit. We come out of this series three out of four or four out of four (wins)."
Despite its meager offensive output on Saturday, Michigan swung the bats well enough to win on Sunday. But they had sweaty hands while in the field, tallying three errors in another disappointing loss. The most detrimental error came in the first inning, with freshman pitcher Adam Abraham bobbling leadoff hitter Jake Owens's bunt. The freshman mistake rattled Abraham, who went on to give up five runs in the inning and left the game before recording an out. The Wolverines went on to lose 5-4, even though Northwestern's defense (four errors) was worse.
Michigan, which was amongst the nation's leaders in fielding percentage (.980) before it played its home opener last Friday, has committed 17 errors in the last 12 games and dropped its fielding percentage to .967.
"Since we've come home we've just fielded porous, and it's just strange," Maloney said. "You talk about slumps, it's a fielding slump at a bad time."