With two outs in the top of the seventh inning, Ako Thomas saw a hard hit grounder squirt off his glove as two runners crossed the plate. Lawrence Tech’s Joseph Russo had smashed a ball at the junior shortstop, who attempted to field it on a hop. The play extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 7-3 before another single completed the six-run inning, and gave Lawrence Tech an 8-3 advantage that it held over the final two frames.

The play not only put the Michigan baseball team in a hole from which it was unable to recover, but served as a microcosm of the Wolverines’ disastrous start to the season. After establishing themselves as one of the Big Ten’s premier defensive units a season ago, they have committed 27 errors in just 15 games.

“It’s just another game where we played very sloppy on defense and gave the opposition a huge inning,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “The four errors stand out, but it’s just the execution of playing defense and taking care of the baseball.”

While the errors have been a huge blemish on Michigan’s 4-11 start, they have been far from the only problem. Their three-run output Wednesday afternoon marked the third consecutive game in which the Wolverines have scored four runs or fewer.

“The defensive side of things … is causing the hitters to get behind a hole,” Bakich said, “and then they start pressing. They’re not stringing quality at-bats together because they’re looking at climbing out of a deficit.”

The correlation between defensive struggles and offensive stagnation cannot be ignored. Michigan jumped out to an early lead courtesy of a RBI groundout and single from redshirt junior Miles Lewis and freshman outfielder Jesse Franklin, respectively.

Minutes after Franklin’s single put the Wolverines’ in control, though, the lead crumbled in an all-too-familiar turn of events. Freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren short-hopped a throw that skipped past Franklin, allowing Lawrence Tech’s first run to score and igniting Michigan’s collapse.

“It was the little things again,” Bakich said, “and it’s the little things that have plagued us all year and that is something that we are absolutely laser-focused on and that we are going to work to correct.”

Two innings later, the Wolverines’ defensive woes compounded, as the Blue Devils plated four unearned runs in their six-run seventh. The first run of the inning scored on a double into the corner after sophomore right fielder Christian Bullock missed the cut-off man, allowing Tyler Cleasby to score from first.

Three pitches later, with a man on third and the infield in, a hard-hit grounder found junior second baseman Blake Nelson. Even a high throw from Nelson easily beat Cleasby to the plate before redshirt freshman catcher Marcus Chavez mishandled the throw, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Five batters and a pitching change later, Thomas’ error pushed the Michigan deficit to four.

“We’re letting one negative play turn into three negative plays,” Bakich said. “If something bad happens, we just got to be able to shut it down and get back to the positive side of things.”

In a familiar refrain, one bright spot for the Wolverines came from its starting pitching. Junior southpaw William Tribucher went five innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits while striking out four Lawrence Tech hitters. It was the fifth game in seven in which Michigan’s starter gave up three runs or less — a stretch over which the Wolverines have gone 2-5.

“It was encouraging,” Bakich said. “(Tribucher) threw strikes, he was aggressive in the strike zone, he was very consistent and executed his pitches well. … In those five innings, he looked pretty good. He looked like the Will Tribucher that we know he is.”

Ultimately, though, the starting pitchers’ performances need to carry over the rest of the team.

“We’re just gonna stick with it,” Bakich said. “We’re gonna continue to believe that we’ve got good players and a good team and we’re just gonna keep a relentless focus and attack on the little things and make sure that if we take care of those, then the big things like the outcome of the game will take care of itself.”

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