Four-game split with Princeton ends Spring Break trek

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 9, 2014

The final game of the Michigan baseball team’s series against Princeton looked like it would leave a nasty aftertaste to the weekend when two errors gave the Tigers a 2-0 advantage in the top of the sixth inning. The Wolverines had already dropped two of the first three games of the weekend to Princeton, and a third loss looked imminent. Then, Michigan showed something encouraging from a sub-.500 team: fight.

The Wolverines (6-10-1) loaded the bases, and with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, junior outfielder Kevin White sent a fly ball to right field, deep enough to bring a runner home on a sacrifice fly. Next up was senior catcher Cole Martin, who came through with a two-out single that drove in another run, tying the game at two.

It was all Michigan the rest of the way. After Princeton (2-5) went down 1-2-3 in the seventh, the Wolverines strung together a few hits and tacked on the clinching two runs.

Sophomore left-hander Evan Hill went eight innings, giving up only two runs en route to the 4-2 win. Sophomore right-hander Jacob Cronenworth closed things down in the ninth to earn the save.

That finished a weekend at the New York Mets’ spring training facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where Michigan lost a Friday night game, 7-3, split a Saturday doubleheader with an 8-2 win and a 6-5 loss and finished off the weekend with a 4-2 come-from-behind victory Sunday afternoon.

Friday, the series didn’t start off well for the Wolverines. Junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik gave up four runs and lasted just two innings — his shortest outing of the year. Michigan also struggled from the plate, where it was no-hit through five innings and faced a 6-0 deficit heading into the sixth.

“(The pitcher we faced Friday) was a left-hander that was getting up to 94 (miles per hour) with a power slider and a really good changeup,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He had a terrific performance. It was one of those games where we tip our cap to him. That’s a kid who is going to have a chance to play after college.”

The Wolverines’ bats were able to get some momentum rolling in the sixth. The bottom of the batting order put two runners on base, allowing the hot bats of sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes, freshman left fielder Zach Zott and junior center fielder Jackson Glines to push three runs across the plate.

Two of those runs came on a double-squeeze bunt play from Glines. It wasn’t the first time Bakich signaled for the high-risk play, and it has proved to be a successful tool so far this year.

“It’s one of our gadget plays,” Glines said. “They’re not thinking the guy is going to score from second, so we just catch them off guard.”

A few Michigan bats warmed up, but problems occurred in the second half of the lineup, where the fourth through eighth hitters went a combined 0-15.

“With our type of offense, we want to run, steal and take the extra 90 to put pressure on teams when you’re down a significant number of runs,” Bakich said. “(Being down) limits your opportunities to take chances and be aggressive in certain spots.”

Though the sixth was a positive inning for the Wolverines, it wasn’t enough to make a difference in the end, as the Tigers took game one, 7-3.

Game two was a different story. Michigan came right out of the gate with two runs in four of the first five innings. Those hot bats and an effective outing from fifth-year senior left-hander Logan McAnallen combined for a convincing 8-2 win.

Every Wolverine starter had a hit — a notable improvement from the night before. Glines and junior left fielder Kyle Jusick led the team from the three and four slots in the batting order, going a combined 5-for-6 with five runs batted in.

This offensive dominance has become commonplace for Glines, who leads the team with a .369 batting-average, .453 on-base percentage and 12 RBI.

“(I’ve found success by) busting my butt in practice, working hard and hitting the ball as hard as I can,” Glines said.

McAnallen, who started the season working out of the bullpen, has been one of Michigan’s best arms this year. Through five appearances, he carries a 2.89 earned-run average and 21 strikeouts.

“I was just trying to focus on good tempo and forcing contact, and let my defense work behind me,” McAnallen said. “Our offense went to work and that gives me a lot of confidence, and it’s a little less stressful pitching when you have eight runs behind you.”

Moving into the usual college baseball schedule, where teams play three games each weekend followed by one mid-week match, McAnallen is projected to continue in a starting role. Having a veteran presence that can be used in both the bullpen and starting rotation will be key moving forward.

The second game Saturday presented problems, as fifth-year senior right-hander Ben Ballantine had a shaky outing. After an early lead for the Tigers, the game went back and forth all the way to the end. Trailing, 6-5, the Wolverines got a runner to second base in their last at-bat, but failed to bring the tying run home.

From an offensive standpoint, Michigan operated how it wanted to. The top of the order was successful at getting on base — the first three hitters had at least one hit — and slots four through six all had an RBI.

Though no loss is easy to swallow, Saturday’s had some silver linings for a struggling team.

The series against Princeton signaled the end of a Spring Break trip that saw the Wolverines play 10 games in just nine days. The team went 5-5, which is cause for celebration after a 1-5-1 start.

“We’re moving in a positive direction,” Bakich said. “Confidence is restored back to where it needs to be after a disappointing weekend in North Carolina. The guys responded well this entire week down in Florida.”