Baseball falls to Nebraska, eliminated from Big Ten Tournament

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By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 24, 2014

The atmosphere of TD Ameritrade Park replicated that of the big leagues, and it was as if Nebraska was the stadium’s tenant.

Among the sea of red, there were glimpses of maize, though the color was more prevalent on security guards wandering the aisles than Michigan fans. The crowd applauded when the Cornhuskers threw a strike, cheered after each inning and stood for every hard-hit ball.

Michigan fans kept waiting to stand — but when they did leave their seats, they wouldn’t be returning for another game.

Saturday morning, the fifth-seeded Wolverines couldn’t force a second game in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and ended their season with a 6-1 loss to No. 2 seed Nebraska.

Michigan (13-11 Big Ten, 30-29-1 overall) took a dagger in the sixth inning, when the 20th-ranked Cornhuskers batted around and scored five runs, including three on bases-loaded walks.

Nebraska ousted Michigan freshman right-hander Keith Lehmann when second baseman Pat Kelly doubled to the right-field corner with one out.

Michigan coach Erik Bakich put in junior right-hander James Bourque for relief and during the transition said “he’d rather be one batter too early than a batter too late.” But the situation didn’t play out that way, as the first batter Bourque faced hit a blooper to shallow left field, and the next singled over second base to bring in the Cornhuskers’ second run.

With two runners in scoring position, Bourque got the second out but hit the next batter and walked two more, putting Nebraska up 4-0. Bourque’s 29th pitch was his last, and in came freshman right-hander Mac Lozer, but things didn’t get any better.

Michigan third baseman Jake Placzek singled down the third-base line, and Lozer walked in the Cornhuskers’ sixth run before ending the 36-minute inning.

The damage had been done, and Michigan couldn’t turn it around.

“You can’t give free passes to good teams,” Bakich said. “It’s the difference of getting strike one and strike two on a hitter versus ball one and ball two ... We got behind a lot of hitters there in the middle.”

The Wolverines’ offense went down 1-2-3 in the next inning, and Michigan brought in sophomore right-hander Jake Balicki to start the bottom frame. Balicki loaded the bases with no outs, and Bakich reached even deeper into the bullpen for senior right-hander Alex Lakatos — he ended the jam by inducing two fly outs and a ground out.

Nebraska (18-6, 40-18) couldn’t pile on any more runs before the slaughter ended, but each swing of the bat brought the Wolverines’ season closer to its end.

The Cornhuskers, who accumulated five two-out RBIs, struck first in the fourth inning, when Lehmann — in his second start of the season — walked two batters and allowed catcher Tanner Lubach to line an RBI single up the middle gap.

Michigan, meanwhile, couldn’t do anything on offense, with its only run coming by a stroke of luck. The Wolverines finished the game with a paltry three hits, two from Cronenworth and one from sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes, all singles.

Left-hander Kyle Kubat pitched a near-complete game for Nebraska, and more than half of his pitches were strikes. But the Wolverines couldn’t make contact on the barrel.

“We gotta do a better job off a guy like that,” Bakich said. “The best contact we had was when we stayed in the middle of the field and went the other way — he just had us off balance all day.”

Utilizing his change-up, Kubat posted six strikeouts and retired eight of nine batters after the sixth-inning Nebraska onslaught. In the ninth, he walked Maezes, who later scored Michigan’s only run after advancing on a wild pitch and two sacrifice flies to prevent the shutout.

For Michigan, there is no at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s the end of the line for a roller-coaster season filled with many disparities.