EAST LANSING — The Michigan baseball team was engaged in a pitcher’s duel through the first five and a half innings of its contest with Michigan State.
But that low-scoring game was a fleeting memory one inning later, after the Spartans put up eight runs in the bottom of the sixth en route to defeating the 22nd-ranked Wolverines, 11-5. The loss for Michigan (3-2 Big Ten, 21-9 overall) marked its third in a row, its worst losing streak since a four-game skid in March last season.
“We’ve certainly hit our share of adversity the last seven days,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It happens in sports. It certainly happens in baseball. You just got to stay positive. We look forward to playing better tomorrow.”
The score was tied at two in the bottom of the sixth when Michigan State (5-1, 22-6) loaded the bases with no outs. The situation prompted Bakich to replace junior left-hander Brett Adcock — who had just come on in relief of senior left-hander Evan Hill — with junior right-hander Mac Lozer.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Lozer was unable to escape the jam.
Right fielder Kris Simonton, the first batter Lozer faced, hit a single to center field that drove in two runs. Third baseman Justin Hovis followed up with a sacrifice fly to right field to put the Spartans ahead, 5-2. Catcher Matt Byars then hit an RBI double to extend Michigan State’s advantage to four. After shortstop Royce Ando grounded out, it appeared that Michigan might end the sixth down by a manageable four runs.
But a fielding error on the next at-bat let the Spartans tack on yet another run. First baseman Jordan Zimmerman further rubbed salt into the Wolverines’ wounds with an RBI single of his own. One batter later, Bakich replaced Lozer with sophomore right hander Jayce Vancena.
“(For) guys who pitch in those high-leverage situations, there are going to be days that are just not their day,” Bakich said. “They have to have a short memory. They have to have amnesia, and we’re going to count on (Lozer) to make big pitches in big spots again this weekend, if not tomorrow (against Eastern Michigan).”
Vancena, too, was victimized by a fielding error that widened Michigan’s deficit to seven. While Vancena allowed an RBI single on the ensuing at-bat, the carnage was ended when senior catcher Harrison Wenson whipped the ball to freshman shortstop Michael Brdar, who tagged the runner at third to finally get the Wolverines out of the inning.
“It’s always a relief to get off the field after a long inning like (the sixth),” said senior outfielder Matt Ramsay. “It was great to get back in the dugout, because everyone looked at each other and we were like, ‘It’s go time.’ There wasn’t any doubt on anyone’s faces.”
Before the sixth-inning collapse, it was Michigan who scored first.
With two outs in the third inning, Ramsay stole third and scored on a throwing error, and the Wolverines then mustered a pair of two-out singles. But they were unable to extend their lead.
“I think we were hitting the ball pretty well as a team,” Ramsay said. “But I think what wasn’t happening was that we weren’t getting those timely hits — those hits with runners in scoring position.”
With the bases loaded on one out, the Spartans struck back in the bottom of the third by driving in two runs off a single and a fielding error, but Hill limited the damage to just that.
“I thought our defense played sloppy today,” Bakich said. “Pitching and defense has been a staple of our success in the early goings, and it needs to continue to be a cornerstone of our success. We just gotta be better in those two areas to be the best team that we can be.”
The Wolverines remained down, 2-1, until the top of the fifth, when they put runners on second and third with no outs. Junior right fielder Carmen Benedetti brought the tying run home when he grounded out to second, scoring sophomore infielder Jake Bivens. That left Ramsay on third with only one out.
But Michigan was unable to take the lead, as Wenson struck out and senior outfielder Cody Bruder grounded out to finish the inning. The score remained tied until the deluge of the sixth frame.
“We had some spots in the early innings where we weren’t able to capitalize,” Ramsay said. “It’s good to get early runs.”
The Wolverines did show some life in the top of the ninth when they trailed, 11-3. Senior catcher Dominic Jamett roped a bases-loaded, two-run double to left field to cut the deficit to six. But the Wolverines’ rally was quickly extinguished when Bruder lined out and Benedetti was thrown out at second base.
“We just got our bats and continued to put quality at-bats on,” Ramsay said. “It’s a sign of a good team that even after getting punched in the face, we were still able to put together some quality at-bats together after that.”