By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 22, 2014
The scoreboard wasn’t budging, and the Michigan baseball team was running out of options.
After fouling a 3-2 pitch behind home plate, sophomore infielder Travis Maezes called time to apply pine tar to his bat. By the time players, umpires and fans watched the shortstop apply the material to the tape on his bat, desperation had set in for the Michigan baseball team.
Failing to drive in their first nine base runners or shut down the conference’s eighth-best offense, the Wolverines (13-11 Big Ten, 29-27-1 overall) faced a 2-0 deficit to Minnesota. Two singles had given Michigan life, but the team was 0-19 on the season when trailing after six innings.
Applying pine tar six pitches into the at-bat wasn’t just an aid for the shortstop, it was a Hail Mary call.
But the Wolverines found a stroke of luck in the stick of pine tar. The next pitch, Maezes lined a ball into the right-field bleachers, giving Michigan a lead it wouldn’t surrender.
Michigan’s offense missed out on early opportunities, while Minnesota scored two two-out runs, but Maezes three-run homer changed everything, as the Wolverines moved into the winner’s bracket of the Big Ten Tournament with a 3-2 win.
Despite the win, the first two thirds of the game were far from victorious for Michigan. The Michigan hitters were unable to convert early, despite plenty of chances. Five hits and seven base runners in the first three innings didn’t equate to runs, as poorly-timed ground balls and baserunning blunders prevented the Wolverines from putting any offensive consistency together.
On the mound, junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik matched his offense’s shortcomings with strengths of his own — at least for a little while. Showing command of all of his pitches, the junior held the Gophers hitless and struck out four in the first three innings.
But Minnesota turned the tide in the fourth with its first two hits of the game. A single past third base and a double to left-center were enough offense to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead in the top half of the frame.
The next inning, the Minnesota (13-11, 27-23) showed more two-out magic, singling in a second run and deflating what little life Michigan had left.
As the innings wore on, the Wolverines appeared to be dying a slow, painful death. Allowing just two total hits in three straight innings, Minnesota right-hander Alec Crawford had Michigan well on its way to the daunting loser’s bracket.
But two singles in the seventh inning awakened the Wolverines, and as Maezes battled through the seven-pitch at-bat, it became increasingly clear that Michigan would not go down easily.
Yet it also became clear that something would have to change for anything to happen. That’s when Maezes — whose average had dipped to the lowest of his college career a week ago — took a break from the game’s biggest at-bat to get a grip.
The decision paid off, and the youngest member of the team’s leadership council got to play hero in the first-round win.
Following the win, the Wolverines will face No. 8 Indiana tomorrow night at 10 p.m. with a spot in the semifinals on the line.