- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Shannon Lynch, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 3, 2013
In its last two games, the Michigan baseball team’s offense has 16 hits and nine runs, and base runners have stolen five bases. Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ pitching staff has fanned 15 batters and hasn’t allowed a single run in 20 innings of play.
On Wednesday, Michigan was on a roll offensively for eight innings at Ray Fisher Stadium, earning a 7-0 victory against the Chippewas and putting up at least one run in six frames. Many of the opportunities for runs came from aggressive base running and getting the leadoff hitters on base.
Sophomore right fielder Kevin White, who went 1-for-2 with a double, two walks and two runs scored, gave a short and arguably seamless answer to describe Michigan’s current style of play.
“Playing greedy has worked better for us.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Wolverines got off to a hot start early. During the first inning, sophomore right-hander James Bourque struck out two batters without allowing a hit, while sophomore outfielder Zach Zott hit a bomb into right-center, earning a triple and bringing junior outfielder Michael O’Neill home.
“Any time we can get the leadoff hitter on base, they’ve got a great chance of scoring,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Our team can bunt, it can run, it can get guys in motion, it can put pressure on the defense and we have a lot of weapons once we get the leadoff guy on to get him into scoring position.”
Recently, the Wolverine offense has had to operate without senior outfielder and team captain Patrick Biondi, who has been out of the starting lineup with an injury since early March. While his presence has been missed, the Wolverines have been producing at the plate.
In its 7-0 victory over the Chippewas, Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 13-14 overall) batters capitalized in crucial situations. The Wolverines had three sacrifice flies before the fifth inning. White and freshman pitcher Jacob Cronenworth each scored a pair of runs, and Zott, Cronenworth and O’Neill picked up two hits apiece.
“We’ve explored a few leadoff hitters and two-hole and three-hole and mixed that part of it up just to find the right combination, and we’re looking forward to Pat (Biondi) rejoining the lineup because he brings so much to the table and to our offense,” Bakich said. “Even though some guys may not always be a regular starter, when they do get their opportunities, we’re confident and they’re confident that they are going have a quality at-bat and help the team win.”
Central Michigan’s offense couldn’t find its rhythm against a myriad of Michigan pitchers. Bourque pitched the first three innings and tied a season high with five strikeouts. Four relievers followed, including sophomore right-hander Jay Perry, who struck out two, and fifth-year senior right-hander Chad Jasman, who preserved the shutout in the ninth with a strikeout.
“We’re feeling really good right now – our pitching staff has really stepped up,” White said. “We’re just going to try to ride these two wins into the weekend, stick to the routines, execute the fundamentals this weekend and take care of business.”
Bakich expects the same aggressiveness on offense and defense from his team this weekend. The Wolverines travel to East Lansing on Friday and Sunday to take on Michigan State and will play a game on their home turf against the Spartans on Saturday.
“Of course it’s going to be bigger because it’s Michigan State,” Bakich said. “But that doesn’t mean that we can execute any differently than what we did these last two games.”
Part of that execution strategy relies on producing solid at-bats every inning. Another part relies on the base runners’ ability to put pressure on the other team and force errors. And the Wolverines will rely heavily on their pitchers’ ability to throw strikeouts and pitch to contact. Keeping with the aggressive and “greedy” style of play against the Chippewas is key to Michigan’s success this coming weekend.