Find the zone; that is the Michigan baseball team’s goal in every game.
But for the pitchers, the zone was a rare commodity on Tuesday. A team that prides itself on attacking the strike zone with consistency issued 12 walks, six of which came on the minimum four pitches, while also hitting two batters. That inability to find the zone doomed the Wolverines.
Michigan (17-15 overall) was soundly defeated, 14-5, on Tuesday by No. 10 Notre Dame (20-5) in South Bend. The Fighting Irish capitalized on a plethora of free passes to cruise to a dominant victory.
“We have a goal to throw (at least) 60% strikes in a game,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “And tonight, we just did not throw strikes, did not have a feel for the strike zone.”
It was a rough game start to finish for the Wolverines. After a quiet first inning, Michigan senior left-hander Walker Cleveland completely lost control of his pitches.
Cleveland has been struggling to cement himself as a midweek starter for the Wolverines, and those struggles continued against highly ranked Notre Dame.
With two outs in the second, Cleveland issued four consecutive four-ball walks — gift wrapping the game’s first run for the Irish.
Cleveland was then relieved by senior right-hander Willie Weiss, who proceeded to give up a grand slam to the first batter he faced.
Michigan remained behind, 5-0, until the fourth inning when it attempted to edge its way back into the game. It scrounged together a couple of runs off a wild pitch and an RBI single from fifth-year center fielder Joe Stewart.
But in the bottom half of that inning, the game would only fall farther out of reach.
Freshman right-hander Jake Keaser came into the game in the third and he started the fourth as well. Keaser walked a batter, gave up two hits and hit two consecutive batters — which led to him being pulled.
Keaser allowed two runs to score, and his replacement freshman right-hander Avery Goldensoph allowed another two before ending the inning. Then in the sixth Notre Dame notched one more to bring the score to 10-2.
In the eighth, Michigan did manage to put up another three runs off an RBI triple from junior right fielder Clark Elliot and a two run homer from junior second baseman Ted Burton.
But once again the Irish responded in force, scoring four runs off sophomore right-hander Brandon Lawrence to reestablish dominance over the game.
“The lack of throwing strikes, the high frequency of walks, the two hit batters and then the inability to have a shutdown ending after we scored,” Bakich said. “Those are the most contributing factors to the loss.”
The Wolverines were then swiftly snuffed out in the ninth, as Notre Dame struckout the side to cap off the onesided matchup.
The Michigan offense struck out nine times, while only walking four. Meanwhile the pitching staff issued 12 walks and two hit-by-pitches while only notching four strikeouts of their own. The Wolverines simply lost control of the strike zone.
“It’s not that the other team slugged their way to 14 runs,” Bakich said. “They just took advantage of 14 free passes.”
Notre Dame controlled the zone, so it controlled the game.