Baseball hosts Western Michigan in home opener

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 25, 2014

The Michigan baseball team has played its last 24 games on the road, traveling more than 10,000 miles to locations such as Texas, Florida and most recently, Indiana.

But Wednesday, the Wolverines will finally open the gates of Ray Fisher Stadium for their home opener when they host Western Michigan.

“The fact that we played 24 straight games on the road is in itself its own challenge,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It’s going to be good to start playing some home games.”

Michigan hasn’t won a home opener since 2010, and 17 of its 24 games this season have ended in a one- or two-run differential. If the Wolverines can’t produce at the plate, Wednesday may be no different than home openers in years past.

Last weekend, the Broncos (1-2 Mid-American Conference, 10-10 overall) competed in their first conference games against Miami, but Tuesday’s nonconference game against Northwestern was canceled due to poor field conditions.

Western Michigan’s biggest offensive weapon is third baseman Kurt Hoekstra, who is hitting .480. From the mound, the Broncos have a 3.93 ERA, good for third in the MAC, and will start Derek Schneider. The left-hander earned a win against the Wolverines last year, allowing only one run and two hits through two innings.

Opposite Schneider is senior right-hander Alex Lakatos, who has pitched seven innings with a 1.73 ERA, including the last out of a fifth-inning jam in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Indiana.

The Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten, 9-14-1) may have a tough time stacking up against Western Michigan’s pitching. In two losses to the Hoosiers, Michigan’s offense mustered just four runs and stranded 11 runners on base.

Just three players are batting above .300, with junior second baseman Eric Jacobson leading the lineup at .500. Jacobson picked up his first two starts of the season against Indiana, starting a double play for the Wolverines that prevented a run from scoring and going 4-for-6 at the plate with one run.

While Michigan is ranked second in the Big Ten in at-bats, it places 10th in batting average, an indication of the team’s offensive inefficiency.

“Our biggest struggle of the season has come from an offensive standpoint,” Bakich said.

Though the team improved offensively in Sunday’s win, going a combined 11-for-32 compared to Saturday’s 5-for-29, the spotlight was on defense. The Wolverines made no errors and executed multiple clutch defensive plays late in the game, most notably freshman right fielder Jackson Lamb’s two-out diving catch with runners in scoring position that sealed the victory.

“(Sunday’s win) just kind of reinforced what we need to do to win a championship,” Bakich said. “Defensively, we just need to play clean defense and make all the routine plays and know that we’ve got athletes out there that can make those plays when necessary.”

If the Wolverines hope to send their fans home happy, they will certainly have to keep their defense error-free and compensate for an inconsistent offense that saw some improvement over the weekend.