Michigan football, hockey teams face off for IM softball championship

Amanda Allen/Daily
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By Zach Shaw, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published June 10, 2015

As Kelis’ 2003 hit song “Milkshake” blared throughout Elbel Field, Wilton Speight, or “Grande,” as his custom jersey indicated, strode to the plate.

This isn’t a Mad Lib, I promise.

The hip-hop singer confidently discussed how her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, and on the first pitch, the sophomore quarterback nearly sent the ball out of it. It didn’t clear the fence, but was high enough and deep enough to cause left-fielder Kevin Lohan and centerfielder Tyler Motte to collide.

Speight took advantage of the miscue, quickly lugging every ounce of his 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame around the bases. As he crossed home plate and nearly took out sophomore fullback Wyatt Shallman, who was merely attempting a celebratory hug, the bench quickly mobbed him like his shot had earned six points at Michigan Stadium.

While most of Ann Arbor’s eyes were on Oklahoma City — where the Michigan softball team simultaneously played a fateful Game 3 of the Women’s College World Series Championship — “The Team,” an intramural softball team composed entirely of Michigan football players, had just evened the score at five against “Servi’sBoys,” a team composed entirely of Michigan hockey players in the University’s Intramural Slowpitch Softball Championship.

Just one at-bat later, fellow quarterback and rising junior Shane Morris, bearing the name, "Mr. Sandman" and batting to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” belted an equally impressive shot to left-centerfield.

Like Shakira’s hips, Lohan — who moonlighted as a sophomore defenseman during the school year — refused to put on the façade of a defensive effort, staying put while the ball rolled to the fence. Morris cruised around to give his team a lead it would never relinquish.

Behind Morris and senior quarterback Brian Cleary's three runs apiece, The Team overcame an early 3-0 deficit to take down Servi’sBoys, 18-7, to capture a championship and the oft-coveted T-shirts.

“The T-shirt means everything to us,” said self-proclaimed team manager and owner Jack Wangler, who served as a sophomore wide receiver on the football team last fall. “We lost out last year in the semi-finals, and didn’t come back for second place. We’re back with a vengeance.”

Motte, who was once a standout baseball player and teammate with Michigan baseball star Jacob Cronenworth before settling for sophomore forward on the hockey team, was slightly less enthused after the loss.

“To be totally honest, I didn’t know we got T-shirts,” he said. “But it’s good for them, obviously with these two teams in the finals, both teams are full of athletes, and it’s the other competitive side we don’t see of each other. Some guys are athletic enough to come out here and look like college ball-players, some guys do it a little unorthodoxly, but they both get it done.

"It’s good fun for us, but at the end of the day, we both want to win.”

At first, it looked like the squad Red Berenson built for the ice would do just that. Jumping out to an early lead, boasting more former baseball players and besting The Team earlier in the season, Motte and his team looked far superior to Wangler’s squad, despite numerous futile efforts to acquire advice — or even a bat — from the actual Michigan softball team.

“They couldn’t help us out, but we’re not messing around tonight,” said self-anointed power-hitting specialist and rising-junior forward Max Shuart in the second inning. “Honestly, we don’t think we’re gonna have much of a problem with these guys. They’re a good team, (but) they’re average fielders. So if we bring the bats tonight I think we’ve got them.”

On the other side, the calm presence of Wangler and general manager/rising-junior running back Derrick Green kept The Team — which Wangler likened to being the Ron Artest of slowpitch softball due to its hotheaded and controversial nature — focused during the early struggles.

“I’m staying with my squad,” Green said. “It’s just the beginning, we’re all good. Anytime it’s competition, we’re locked in. It doesn’t matter if it’s here or in (football) practice, we’re trying to find a way to win.”

The competitive nature came to fruition in the third inning, when both teams grew frustrated with the officiating. LSA senior and umpire Brandon Gregg, unenviably caught between the largest and strongest students on campus, knew it was time to put his foot down.

“For both teams, I’ve been to most of their games, so I wanna see them do well," he said. "It was cool to see them out of their element. But they’re all competitive, so you have to make the right call.

“At the beginning of the game, I kind of had to lay down the ground rules and held to it. It kept them in check.”

Wangler, who missed his sister’s graduation for the game despite being cut from the team due to “a lot of errors,” utilized his time on the bench, planning the postgame refreshments and snack, manning DJ duties and keeping the team focused on the game.

“Our game plan is none — just hit the ball,” he told members of the team. “Actually, just get on base. We’re playing with nine and they’re playing with 10. Kind of a disadvantage, but we can do it.”

The increase in contact paid off. With less-than-optimal conditions, the hockey team failed to gain its footing in the field, making “at least a dozen” errors, or "fielding fallacies" over the course of the game.

“It’s pretty wet and nobody’s wearing cleats out here really,” Motte said. “It’s kinda tough with the bright lights and the dark sky, but it’s good fun for the guys, the guys are enjoying it.”

Both teams boasted records of 5-1 heading into the contest, but when push came to shove, the hockey team couldn’t keep pace, falling further and further behind until it didn't even mark its two-run rally down in the scorebook, making what was actually an 18-9 loss even worse.

With football coach Jim Harbaugh in Indianapolis for his first satellite camp and hockey coach Red Berenson away on an annual fishing trip with the team’s graduating seniors, it was clear that, despite the testy moments, the end goal was fun for both teams. Both were proud to say that the vast majority of their actual teams were in town over the summer to train —for softball and their regular sports — and the connection is only fueled by the competition.

“It’s all about bragging rights,” Green said. “They beat us the first time, so if we come back and beat them, that would be really good.

“But really, just for us to come out here a day or two out of the week and play something other than football, it just makes our connection stronger.”

Of course, with both teams falling a game short of the postseason in their respective sports, experiencing a championship atmosphere — no matter how small — certainly doesn't hurt.

The same could be said for Wangler's walkup music, where mid-oo's feminine pop proved to be the surprising X-factor for the football team.

"Whatever gets the boys pumped and gets the job done," he said.