By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 7, 2013
The Michigan baseball team had one, short slip-up in its best week of the season.
After defeating two Mid-American Conference foes earlier this week, the Wolverines found themselves trailing early in Friday’s game at Michigan State. But it was just a small lapse. It didn’t matter.
Those first four innings on Friday would be the only time the Wolverines trailed all weekend, as they earned their first sweep of the season by outscoring the Spartans 17-6 in the three-game series.
“We got three great starting pitching performances, and they allowed our offense to get some breathing room,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “The defense played well for the most part, but especially well in the third game. We were able to string a lot of quality at-bats together and got a lot of timely hits.”
In Friday’s game, Michigan scored six consecutive runs after trailing 3-0 in the fourth inning to win 6-3. Freshman shortstop Travis Maezes got the comeback started after hitting a two-RBI triple and eventually touched home plate himself thanks to a throwing error that tied the game at three in the fifth inning.
Maezes went 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs on Friday in one of his most productive games all season. His final RBI came in the seventh inning, with a single that knocked in junior catcher Cole Martin to give the Wolverines the lead they never relinquished.
In Saturday’s game, Maezes continued his offensive outburst when he tripled in his first at-bat to the gap in right-center field. The huge hit led to an eruption in the Michigan dugout, while Maezes gave Bakich a little shove and a few high fives to express his excitement.
“He’s a hockey player, and he was ready to knock me out,” Bakich said. “I love his energy, I love his enthusiasm. That was a huge tone-setter to start the game with a lead-off triple. It’s like in a boxing match, landing a big punch right when the bell rings and that’s what he did.”
The Wolverines loaded the bases following the Maezes triple but only managed to send him across home plate for one run. They left three runners stranded in the first, and leaving runners on base was a lasting issue for Michigan on Saturday. The offense wasn’t the difference in Saturday’s game, unlike Friday, but neither was the defense — both teams committed five combined errors.
Instead, Michigan freshman left-handed pitcher Evan Hill was the x-factor, as he has been all season. He escaped a huge jam in the second inning when the Spartans loaded the bases with no outs and found his groove shortly afterwards.
Hill allowed just four hits, one unearned run, and struck out four in eight innings. The freshman continues to post astounding numbers this year, now boasting a 1.74 earned run average in 51.2 innings pitched.
“Any time you have a guy on the mound who has consistently been giving the team a chance to win every time he pitches, it injects confidence into the entire dugout, into the entire defense, and into the offense,” Bakich said.
But Hill wasn’t the only pitcher who shined during the weekend, and it would be unfair to overlook the job that the entire pitching rotation did. Sophomore left-hander Trent Szkutnik scattered eight hits in Friday’s game to allow just three earned runs in seven innings, the longest he’s pitched in a game all season.
On Sunday, sophomore left-hander Logan McAnallen stepped up to conclude the most consistent pitching weekend of the year for Michigan’s starting rotation. Szkutnik, Hill and McAnallen allowed just five total earned runs, and logged 20.1 innings combined to take pressure off the Wolverines’ bullpen.
“Our success came from just pounding the zone,” McAnallen said. “Hill and Szkutnik let the defense work, and I was just trying to continue that today because I knew our defense was rolling. It really helps you settle in when you know your defense is gonna make plays behind you.”
Pitching was, again, the deciding factor as McAnallen outdueled left-hander Mick VanVossen in a 6-2 win. McAnallen allowed two earned runs off five hits and walked only one batter in 5.1 innings to propel Michigan to its first Big Ten series sweep since 2008.
The Wolverines knocked around VanVossen for four of those six runs, most notably though, sophomore left fielder Zach Zott’s first career home run that got the scoring going early.
“It was just a mistake pitch, and I wasn’t trying to hit a home run or anything,” Zott said. “It was a changeup up and in, and I put a good swing on it.”
Zott and junior catcher Cole Martin led the offense throughout the day, as Zott went 2-for-4 and Martin hit 3-for-4 with an RBI single in the sixth inning.
This weekend’s success could be the turning point for Michigan in what has been a rather mediocre year.
Hitting hadn’t been consistent in weeks — the offense was averaging around three runs per game heading into conference play. But this weekend the Wolverines found solutions. They’ve found success through timely hitting and by pitchers attacking the strike zone, minimizing free passes for opponents.
Bakich has preached consistency since taking over the reigns this summer. It’s been missing since he started preaching, though. Now, the Wolverines move forward, triumphantly, to the heart of the Big Ten season with that long-awaited consistency and a load of momentum.