Michigan pulls together for two straight wins in the Sunshine State

By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 6, 2014

In Florida, the temperature isn’t the only thing that has gotten hotter — the Michigan baseball team’s bats and arms are starting to warm up as well.

Wednesday, the Wolverines (4-8-1) earned their second straight win of the week, 3-2, against Central Florida after defeating Florida Gulf Coast, 6-4, on Tuesday.

“The story of both days down in Florida is we’ve got really good pitching from a lot of the guys that don’t get a lot of the attention,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Everybody that pitched in the last two days has really done an excellent job of pounding the strike zone, forcing contact and letting our defense work.”

The sound bullpen showed a dramatic improvement this week, but there were still moments of a possible letdown. The Wolverines cut it close Wednesday night against Central Florida (6-7) with a 3-1 lead going into the ninth inning.

With two runners on base, sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes fielded a ground ball and lobbed one to sophomore Jacob Cronenworth at second base. Looking for the double play, Cronenworth overthrew the relay to first, which allowed a run to score.

It looked like Michigan would give up another lead late and go to extra innings as it has four times this season, but junior right-hander James Bourque got pinch-hitter Matt Diorio to strike out on a full count for the save.

“You gotta love the pressure situation, the big moment, the tight game,” Bakich said. “Everything we simulate is a one-run, ninth-inning game with things on the line and both dugouts making a lot of noise. We’re comfortable in that environment.”

The Wolverines used freshman left-hander Brett Adcock and sophomore right-hander Jake Balicki on Wednesday to keep their normal weekend rotation intact.

Bakich feels confident in his bullpen, and is starting to get a feel for whom to go to depending on the circumstances. Both Bourque and Cronenworth came through in the final innings after his team had suffered one-run defeats earlier in the season.

“It’s not a finished product, and I don’t know if it ever is because it’s constantly evolving,” he said. “We certainly have a better feel for it now than we did weeks ago, so that’s a positive.”

On offense, Michigan had just nine total runs over seven games before Tuesday, but earned the same amount in these two wins combined — an indication that the team has woken up at the plate.

After the Wolverines got out of a fourth-inning jam with bases loaded, Cronenworth, who walked and then advanced to second, scored off freshman third baseman Ramsey Romano’s single up the middle for the game’s first lead. Romano went 2-for-4 on the night, while junior center fielder Jackson Glines went 2-for-3 to extend his hitting streak to seven games.

Tuesday, Glines' performance against the Eagles (6-7) was crucial for the win. He went 2-for-4 while batting in a career-high five runs. In the fifth inning, his sacrifice bunt brought in both Romano and Maezes to put Michigan up 4-1.

“(Glines) did a great job of being aggressive to our plan and doing exactly what he needed to do to help us win our game,” Bakich said. “It’s good to see him swinging a hot bat.”

After his players had their confidence shaken from the Irish Classic last week in North Carolina, Bakich was quick to find a solution. Monday, the team traveled to Fort Bragg in N.C. to spend the day with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers” as they are referred to.

The team-building provided experience on brotherhood, emphasizing how players needed to count on each other as a soldier does with comrades in war, and brought the Wolverines closer together.

“They knew they were going to get back off the mat after getting knocked down and bounce back, and they have,” Bakich said. “We’re going to continue to keep that same mindset now rolling in to face Princeton.”