Remember the name Bren Spillane.
If you were at Friday’s slugfest between the Michigan baseball team (14-4 Big Ten, 31-15 overall) and Illinois (12-7, 28-16), you already know the name all too well.
The junior first baseman leads the Big Ten in nearly every single batting statistic and further added to his miraculous season with a tremendous performance at the plate. Spillane went three-for-four and clobbered two opposite field home runs — his 19th and 20th of the year. These blasts posit him in second place in the NCAA and in school history.
The hope was that the Wolverines would be able to extinguish the light that is Bren Spillane and his supporting cast of hot bats, but at the end of the day, the light shined bright and burned Michigan 10-3.
“He’s a good player,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He’s a good hitter. He got a couple of pitches out over the plate and he hit them to the opposite side of the park. He’s a big, strong, powerful guy who’s got juice to all sides of the field, so credit to him for hitting two oppo home runs because that’s hard to do.”
Despite getting drubbed by a player with a build the size of a Division I linebacker — 6’5”, 210 lbs — Bakich still asserts that fear is not a factor his pitching staff should consider when seeing Spillane at the plate.
“We’re not gonna be scared of that guy,” Bakich said, “but we’re gonna need to do a better job of attacking because he’s doing very well. Odds are still in our favor of getting him out.”
As has been the case all season, the Illini’s offense did not end with Spillane.
Buttressing the first baseman’s monster performance were second baseman Michael Massey and left fielder Doran Turchin. Massey and Turchin had three hits apiece and, combined with Spillane, secured eight runs-batted in. Two of Massey’s and Turchin’s hits were doubles, playing into Illinois’ reputation as a power hitting team.
As far as the Wolverines’ performance is concerned, there wasn’t much to boast about.
Defensively, Michigan failed to make routine plays and committed a damning four errors on the day.
“Not a good day for us,” Bakich said. “Didn’t play very good defense. It led to a lot of unearned runs and we weren’t able to shut it down from a pitching standpoint after we didn’t make certain plays defensively.”
To the inexperienced observer, the Wolverines’ defensive woes could be attributed to pouring rain which covered Ray Fisher Stadium in a sleek coat of disaster.
However, Michigan typically welcomes these conditions. Training year-round in the blistering weather of the Midwest builds character and an ability to easily maneuver whatever Mother Nature has to offer.
“These are our favorable weather conditions — we like these weather conditions,” Bakich said. “These are the weather conditions we train in all the time, so I think it was a simple lack of execution and we just need to be better tomorrow.”
On the offensive side of the game, the Wolverines consistently made weak contact and couldn’t string quality at-bats together, except for solid innings at the bookends of the game.
Despite trudging through the first inning with a hard-earned 1-0 lead, Michigan’s bats would fall silent and the Wolverines would never lead the contest again.
The lone bright spot in Michigan’s lineup was sophomore designated hitter Dominic Clementi who would reach base four times off two hits and two walks.
In order for the Wolverines to turn it around and erase this demoralizing loss from their memory, the rest of the offense must have a performance similar to Clementi’s.
Even if the offensive is unable to come alive in Saturday’s match-up, the key to Michigan’s success starts with one concept: limiting the Illini offense and one scorching hot bat in particular.