Behind clutch hit and freshman bullpen, Michigan takes two from Windy City

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 4, 2014

EVANSTON — It was a moment any baseball player would be eager to step into — a tie game in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out. And it was sophomore third baseman Jacob Cronenworth who stepped into the batter’s box.

When he stepped out, it wasn’t toward the dugout but instead toward first base after he lined one down the right-field line.

Cronenworth’s two-run single set up the Michigan baseball team to preserve the lead in the bottom half and edge past Northwestern in a close 5-3 decision and win another conference series.

“It was a fundamentally sound baseball game,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “There were no errors made and hard-hit balls on both sides. Fortunately for us, we were able to put a little more pressure on them.”

The victory came on the heels of an 18-6 barrage by the Wolverines on Saturday, a rebound from Friday’s weak entrance, a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats.

Sunday, Michigan put up a run in the first inning, but the Wolverines didn’t hold onto the early lead for long. In the bottom half, fifth-year senior left-hander Logan McAnallen loaded the bases and hit the fifth batter to bring in Northwestern’s first run. With a full and capable bullpen at Bakich’s disposal, there was no need to wait around, so he quickly pulled McAnallen after 22 pitches in 0.1 innings, his shortest start of the season.

The Wildcats scored twice more for their last runs of the game, but they were not credited to freshman right-hander Keith Lehmann, who pitched five innings of relief. After Michigan tied the game in the fifth inning, Northwestern threatened later in the sixth with a runner in scoring position, but freshman left-hander Brett Adcock came in for cleanup duty, pitching 2.2 innings with six strikeouts. Together, the lights-out performances from the freshmen gave their team a chance to win it.

“Keith and Brett were sensational in holding Northwestern’s offense down for the entire game,” Bakich said.

After Cronenworth lined his go-ahead single, he picked up his ninth save of the season, good for second in the conference, in 1-2-3 fashion. He also added three more multi-hit games to his record this weekend, going 7-for-13 even when his clutch late-inning pitching was not needed.

Saturday included far less drama as a result of a first-inning onslaught, when the Wolverines batted around and posted nine runs, their highest in an inning since 2010. Wildcat right-hander Brandon Magallones, who threw more than 40 pitches in the starting frame, drew a mound visit from the coach after walking the first two batters.

But Magallones’ nerves didn’t settle, and junior center fielder Jackson Glines belted his 16th pitch over the right-field wall for his first home run of the season.

“The team needed a spark,” Glines said. “I told everyone that I’m putting the team on my back because no one else was doing it.”

Though Glines is a believer that home runs are rally killers, it was the complete opposite — the Wolverines scored six more runs through 13 batters, with only one player not reaching base. Northwestern’s bullpen began warming up after five batters, but Magallones wasn’t replaced until later in the sixth inning after giving up 12 runs total, 11 earned.

“We haven’t had a first-round knockout like that this season,” Bakich said. “We’ve had some crooked numbers, but not to the point where you put up a nine-spot up.”

Meanwhile, junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik claimed his first win of the season for Michigan (11-10 Big Ten, 22-25-1 overall) in his longest outing since March 30. Though Szkutnik gave up four runs in the third inning, he limited the damage by putting three zeroes on the scoreboard for the Wolverines afterward.

Senior right-hander Alex Lakatos, who was initially off balance on his release but settled his form, gave up two more runs but preserved the lead regardless.

Michigan had a combined 18 hits and 34 quality at-bats Saturday, one of the best performances this season, and every starter had at least one hit. Junior first baseman Kendall Patrick and junior designated hitter Kevin White each launched one out of the park to help rout the Wildcats (5-15, 13-31).

Friday afternoon, the Wolverines lost their sixth conference opener this season. Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, but sophomore left-hander Evan Hill couldn’t keep his composure — Northwestern tallied five runs in the third inning, including a triple and home run, forcing Hill to make his earliest exit this year.

Despite 5.1 innings of shutout relief from junior right-hander James Bourque, the Wolverines’ offense couldn’t rally behind him and mustered just three more hits while only one runner reached scoring position. According to Bakich, the difference at the plate Friday was his players’ approach to stepping inside the box.

“The challenge for them was to have a me-versus-you mentality,” Bakich said. “Not worry about the swing, mechanics or anything other than winning the pitches, the battle and treating it as a personal competition between you and the pitcher — and you’re going to win.”

With the Big Ten Tournament a few weeks away, Bakich said his team needs to continue to play at its highest possible level. If he wants to have his team be a postseason contender, Friday’s Michigan team cannot show up.