One more series in Stillwater, Okla., stands between the No. 18 Michigan baseball team and its home opener in Ann Arbor and the atmosphere indicates that the team isn’t just ready — it’s looking forward to it.
“We consistently play with a lot of excitement,” said junior catcher Harrison Wenson. “Even the fans on other teams have pointed out that we play with a lot of energy.”
But energy alone won’t get the Wolverines a series sweep this weekend.
Michigan is squaring up for the final series in its 19-game road swing this weekend against No. 22 Oklahoma State. This will be just the second time the Wolverines have faced a top-25 team this season. They beat No. 10 California, 5-0, on Feb. 29. The only time the team played the Cowboys was in a three-game series at the end of the 2015 regular season. Though Oklahoma State finished with two wins, Michigan claimed a victory for its final game on Senior Day.
Going into the series, the Wolverines boast an 11-3 record and are coming off a four-game winning streak after their victories in Hawaii. Despite their impressive start, the Cowboys are entering the weekend with much the same accolades. Oklahoma State is currently on a five-game winning streak and has an 11-6 overall record.
To prepare, Michigan coach Erik Bakich has been keeping training sessions challenging and up-tempo.
“We try to have tougher training sessions and easy games, as opposed to easy training sessions and tough games,” Bakich said. “I think our team has responded well to that. They’ve been able to respond to any adversity within the game well. They don’t get rattled, they stay poised, they stay confident.”
On paper, the Cowboys might be the last formidable opponent Michigan will face in its regular season. The Wolverines are ranked second in the Big Ten, just below Michigan State but far above Nebraska. As Michigan starts to play conference teams, it might find the road ahead more than comfortable.
“I told (the team) we’re not playing Oklahoma State today, so our sole focus needs to be on improving today,” Bakich said. “I think when you have a growth mindset as a program, you create a very consistent message, day in and day out.
That mindset has proven to be fruitful as junior left-hander Brett Adcock was named Michigan’s third Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in just four weeks.
Adcock recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in Hawaii in the Wolverines’ 5-4 extra-inning win. He allowed only one run on two hits and boasts a 1.15 earned-run average.
“As a staff, we’ve been working really hard to get better every single day,” Adcock said. “The awards don’t mean much, but definitely shows how hard we’ve been working. There’s obviously still room to get better, and with our pitching staff working as well as it is, it’s going to be hard to beat us.”
Michigan has moved up in the rankings, and though it’s not a definitive sign of what’s to come this weekend, it could factor into informed predictions. The team has broken into USA TODAY’s Coaches Poll for the first time this season at No. 24, ranked in the same slot for Collegiate Baseball News, and slid into 20th in the Perfect Game Poll.
But, in Bakich fashion, Michigan is focused focused on nothing but the immediate challenge ahead and exactly how it’s going to approach the upcoming series.
“When you see us play, when you watch the way the entire dugout is engaged, you won’t hear just one guy,” Bakich said. “You’ll hear everybody. That type of positive energy is reinforced every time, it’s consistent throughout the game, it’s a staple of our program.
“It’s something that doesn’t have to be coached.”
Adock added that it’s going to be a loud dugout once they get back to Ann Arbor. The only thing standing between the Wolverines and the loudest dugout of all is one last road series in Oklahoma.