- Luna Anna Archey/Daily
By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 3, 2014
A 4-1 record in five games is more like the Michigan baseball team imagined.
For the Wolverines, the current homestand is going much better than its early-season road trip. After going 9-14-1 on the road to start the season, Michigan has returned to Ann Arbor, having taken two of three from a tough Iowa squad in that 4-1 stretch.
As Minnesota comes to town, the Wolverines (3-3 Big Ten, 13-15-1 overall) will look to continue their hot streak at home against one of the Big Ten’s weaker offenses.
Michigan didn’t get off to the start it wanted, but by playing two games against ranked teams during its 24-game opening road trip, Michigan coach Erik Bakich made sure his team was prepared for Big Ten play.
“For the rest of the year we’re not going to see anything we haven’t seen already,” Bakich said. “We’ve had a ton of top-25 competition already, and all that competition has gotten us really battle-tested and confident and ready to compete with anyone the second half of the season.”
In Minnesota, the battles aren’t likely to come from the batter’s box. With a .239 batting average, the Golden Gophers (3-3, 15-9) boast the conference’s ninth-ranked offense, something that the Wolverine starters — who posted a 1.08 earned-run average and 13 strikeouts while giving up just nine hits last weekend against Iowa — hope to capitalize on.
In the field, the Wolverines hope to bounce back from Wednesday’s three-error performance against Central Michigan, tied for their worst of the year. Michigan may have to do so without two of its infield starters. Freshman infielder Ramsey Romano is sidelined for at least six weeks with a broken hand, and senior catcher Cole Martin is questionable for Friday after leaving Wednesday’s game early with a sore arm.
While keeping errors down is a key concern, Bakich is well aware that relaxation on any front can be deadly in the Big Ten season.
“Bottom line, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Bakich said. “Even if we were 29-0, we’d still have things to work on and improvements to make. It’s just about sticking to the process of getting better, and we’re just going to keep grinding on that and work on making quality pitches and stringing quality at-bats together.”
With both teams tied for fourth in the conference standings, the Wolverines are well aware of the significance of each game. With both teams strongest in pitching, the games will likely be close and low-scoring, which is fine by Bakich. After leading the nation with 20 of 29 games this season decided by two runs or fewer, the Wolverines thrive in the tight games, evidenced by the final two contests of the Iowa series, in which freshman infielder Trey Miller and junior outfielder Jackson Glines each came up with clutch hits late in the games.
But the easiest way to beat a team is to be aggressive early on. With senior ace Ben Ballantine on the mound Friday, Bakich stresses the importance of winning the first game.
“Friday night games are always competitive environments,” Bakich said. “So we’re going to look to set the tone early on. Hitting is contagious, both positive and negative, so it’s important to get going early and keep having these guys taste the thrill of victory.”