Baseball heads to conference tournament matchup with Minnesota

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 20, 2014

The No. 5 seed Michigan baseball team starts postseason play Wednesday at the Big Ten Tournament in a first round matchup against fourth-seeded Minnesota. Though seeding in the tournament wasn’t a concern for the team, according to head coach Erik Bakich, finishing the season on a high note certainly is.

The Wolverines (13-11 Big Ten, 28-27-1 overall), winners of 10 out of their last 13 games, head into the tournament needing to win it all for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“Postseason success hinges on good pitching, good defense and timely hits,” Bakich said. “I like the way we’re playing and how we have been playing for the last couple of weeks. We have a lot of positive momentum and confidence coming into this week.”

Though Michigan has had success over the past month, playing the Golden Gophers (13-11, 27-22) will remind the team of a period when it was not playing its best baseball. Coming into the series in the first weekend of April, the Wolverines had won five of their past six games, including one over eventual regular-season champion Indiana. Then came the series against Minnesota.

Michigan was a step behind the Golden Gophers all weekend and ended up losing two of three games.

In the series opener, the Wolverines threw fifth-year senior right-hander Ben Ballantine and freshman left-hander Brett Adcock, who allowed a combined six runs over nine innings as Michigan had to battle back to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. It eventually lost in 11 innings, 9-6.

Saturday, the Wolverine bats showed up early and scored six runs in the first five innings of the game. Backed by a solid performance from sophomore left-hander Evan Hill, Michigan cruised to an 8-1 win.

Junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik put up a quality outing with two earned runs over six innings as the Wolverines lost, 3-1.

This time around, the Wolverines will start with Szkutnik, who is now the team’s ace. He carries a 2-1 record in conference games, accompanied with a 3.54 earned-run average. Over his last 10.2 innings, the junior has only allowed one run while striking out eight and walking just three.

Minnesota is led by outfielders Jake Bergren and Dan Motl, who carry batting averages of .312 and .296, respectively.

Senior Alec Crawford will climb the hill for the Golden Gophers on Wednesday, and carries a 4-1 record, 3.76 ERA and 65 strikeouts, which is the fourth most in the Big Ten.

On both sides of the ball Michigan has been seeing success recently and is going to make a conscious effort not to let any distractions of postseason play affect the on-field product.

“Our mental game is really good,” Bakich said. “Our guys are just going to be focused on competing and things that they can control and not things like that they’re playing at the home of the College World Series or in front of 10,000 people in the stands. We’ve got to get after it and compete on the field.”

The Wolverine lineup looks quite different now than it did during the regular season series. Senior catcher Cole Martin was sitting out due to an arm injury, and junior left fielder Kevin White and designated hitter Dominic Jamett have also both been inserted in the lineup in recent weeks.

That change-up has been a major contribution to the recent Michigan success at the plate — which it hopes will help win game one against the Golden Gophers.