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Michigan bounces back, takes two of three in Big Ten/Big East Challenge

By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 19, 2012

If the Michigan baseball team proved anything this weekend, it’s that it isn’t 2011 anymore.

After giving up five runs in the final two innings en route to a season-opening 9-8 loss to Pittsburgh, the Wolverines (2-1 overall) bounced back to defeat Seton Hall and West Virginia in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge behind great starting pitching.

“Any time you can get seven-plus innings out of a starter, you’re in good shape to win the game,” said sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill. “(Redshirt junior pitcher Bobby Brosnahan and junior pitcher Ben Ballantine) didn’t overthrow, they threw strikes, they hit their spots, and they kept us in the game.”

Last season, the Wolverines went winless at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge and didn't pick up their second win until 11 games into the season while their pitching staff struggled. A much different team appeared this weekend.

Against an undefeated Mountaineers team on Sunday, Michigan started off strong and never looked back. Senior third baseman John Lorenz smacked a three-run home run in the first inning and five other Wolverines collected RBIs, as the offense batted in 14 runs to secure a 14-3 victory. O’Neill gave the West Virginia pitching staff fits all game, going 3-for-5 with four runs, two stolen-bases and one RBI.

But as well as the offense hit, Ballantine might have had a better game. Looking to improve on his sophomore campaign — in which he went 3-1 with a 4.91 earned run average — Ballantine pitched seven strong innings, while allowing just three hits and one earned run. He also had five strikeouts.

“We definitely wanted to come back to Ann Arbor with a winning record because we knew how important it would be for our morale,” Ballantine said. “(Assistant coach Steve) Merriman and I, we just said, ‘attack the hitters with fastballs … keep them off balance with some off-speed stuff and let the defense make plays.’ And they did that all game, so it was really easy for me to make it through seven innings today.”

Ballantine’s performance gave the Wolverines their second-straight game with a strong pitching performance.

The difference on Saturday, though, was that Michigan really needed Brosnahan’s strong showing. With the Wolverines’s lineup struggling to produce, Brosnahan sqaured off against Seton Hall’s Rick Mangione in a pitcher’s duel. After giving up a run in the first inning, Brosnahan stymied the Pirates’s lineup for the rest of the game. He allowed just three hits, while striking out four batters over the next six innings.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s bats came alive in the bottom of the sixth inning. Junior center fielder Patrick Biondi started off the inning with a single. After Biondi stole second base, freshman left fielder Will Drake doubled down the right field line to tie the score at one. Seton Hall then brought in Benny Mejia to relieve Mangione, but the Wolverines were still able to capitalize on the scoring opportunity. After Drake advanced to third base on an O’Neill fly to right field, senior catcher Coley Crank knocked him in on a sacrifice fly to left field to give the Wolverines the lead for good.

Redshirt sophomore Logan McAnallen came on in relief to pitch a scoreless final two innings to secure the win for Brosnahan.

“I was encouraged by the pitching,” said Michigan coach Rich Maloney. “I thought Bobby and Logan pitched very well.”

The opening weekend also revealed that the Wolverines have found an offensive force in Drake. In his first collegiate game, the first-year player went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and one RBI against the Panthers. He finished the weekend with five hits, five runs, four RBI and three stolen bases.

“He drives in runs, he’s constantly on base, he can steal whenever he wants — it’s nice to hit behind him because he’s always on base,” O’Neill said. “Not only does he drive in runs, but he also allows (other) hitters to drive him in. He’s an instant impact on offensive.”

After going winless at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge last year, Michigan is encouraged by it’s two early wins, especially by the way it played after the disheartening loss to Pittsburgh.

“We battled back,” O’Neill. “We didn’t let that loss on Friday night determine our weekend which is a great sign.”