On Tuesday, Michigan coach Erik Bakich was asked about his No. 18 Michigan baseball team’s upcoming Big Ten debut against Maryland this weekend on WTKA. Bakich quickly pointed out that the Wolverines “can’t look ahead” past their Wednesday showdown against Western Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium.
Wisely, Bakich isn’t overlooking the Broncos (9-7), who have won eight of their last 10 games, including a victory this past Sunday at Evansville, 4-3. The Wolverines are equally hot, winning eight of nine and sweeping their Sunday doubleheader against Northern Illinois.
While coming out on top is always the goal, state supremacy is also on the line. The last time the two state foes played – March 26, 2014 – Michigan won 12-4. The Wolverines (15-4) will look to continue their winning ways against Western Michigan and garner the upper hand in the matchup.
Nevertheless, Michigan and junior pitcher Jayce Vancena have a daunting task ahead of them, facing a fierce Broncos lineup. Western Michigan ranks 10th in the NCAA with a .327 team batting average and boasts an impressive .418 on-base percentage. The Broncos’ offense is led by junior Tanner Allison, who earned a Mid-American West Conference player of the week nod last month. Allison, an outfielder who also pitches, leads Western Michigan in hits, slugging percentage, runs scored, home runs, runs batted in and batting average at .435.
In order to overcome the efficient Broncos offense, Bakich will implement the same unassuming game plan the team has used all season.
“The recipe for us has been very simple,” Bakich said. “Quality starts, good defense, timely hits. That’s really been our key to finding ways to win.”
While reliable play in all phases of the game will be necessary to defeat Western Michigan, the Wolverines will have to continue their impressive play on defense. Michigan currently ranks 14th in the NCAA with a .982 fielding percentage.
“One thing we’ve done consistently is played a high level of defense with some really good playmakers on the field,” Bakich said.
Throughout the early part of the season, Bakich repeatedly complimented his team’s defense. He is not only impressed with their ability to make the routine plays, but also the web-gem plays that give momentum to the squad and can often save runs.
For Michigan to come out victorious, it must continue its strong play on defense, as only one error may prove the difference against the talented bats of the Broncos. Given any extra outs, Western Michigan possesses the offense to capitalize with additional runs.
The Wolverines will also look to separate themselves on the basepaths. Michigan currently ranks fourth in the NCAA with 2.26 steals per game and ranks fifth with 43 stolen bases. The Wolverines’ aggressive approach on the bases should allow them to put runners in scoring position and could potentially lead to the game-defining run.
However, Michigan may see limited success on the bases against the Broncos, as Western Michigan catcher Jesse Forestell has allowed just four stolen bases on the season.
While Michigan possesses the personnel to come out victorious, Western Michigan’s offense and catcher will be lofty obstacles to overcome.