In its final home contest of the season, the Michigan baseball team was desperately trying to rediscover its groove after a rough week.
And down 5-2 to Oakland in the ninth inning, it appeared as though the Wolverines might. An inspired rally tied the score at five, and power-hitting junior catcher Harrison Wenson stepped to the plate with a runner in scoring position.
But Wenson hit into a double play, and the Grizzlies went on to win the game in extras.
The loss to Oakland stretched the Wolverines’ losing streak to five after a historic start to the season during which they were ranked as high as No. 16 in the country.
Now, for the first time all season, Michigan (12-8 Big Ten, 34-17 overall) is feeling the heat.
“It seems like everyone is feeling like every pitch is magnified at this point in the season,” said senior centerfielder Cody Bruder. “If you take a strike, you’re feeling a little worse than you did at the beginning of the season, and that’s just a mental state. We got to get back to just being us, and having fun.”
No one could have seen a slump coming after the Wolverines finished off a sweep of Rutgers on May 6 in dominant fashion.
But Wenson, who leads the club in home runs, began a 2-for-20 slump. Then, in Michigan’s upset loss to Central Michigan, senior outfielder Matt Ramsay — who has recorded 15 multi-hit games while creating headaches for the opponents with his baserunning — suffered an injury and has not played since.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich has taken notice of a change in the play of his team over the past few games, and has responded by switching the lineup up in recent contests, something he has not done much of all year.
“It feels a little like we’re playing not to lose,” Bakich said. “We play our best when we’re playing aggressive and when we treat the field like it’s a giant playground.”
The losses have turned the upcoming three-game set against Illinois, which once seemed like a tune-up for the Big Ten Tournament, into a crucial series to regain ground in the conference standings.
It certainly won’t come easy: the Fighting Illini (10-11 Big Ten, 26-22 overall) sit ninth in the Big Ten standings and will be fighting for a chance to play in the Big Ten Tournament next week, which only takes the top eight teams.
In the ninth inning Tuesday against Oakland, Michigan came close to recapturing some of the magic that it had so much of not so long ago. The Wolverines did it by falling back on what their coach has been preaching all year: a pitch-by-pitch, game-by-game approach.
“We have to trust the approach, and then get it done,” said sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens after Tuesday’s loss. “We’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”
So for now, Michigan will not focus on its recent struggles, or the impending Big Ten Tournament next week. Rather, it will embrace the present moment — which means taking care of business in game one against Illinois this weekend.