One-run losses define the weekend

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 23, 2014

Coach Erik Bakich knew Michigan was going to be in some tight games early in the season, and this weekend’s series against Houston proved that thought to be true.

The Wolverines (1-5-1) lost all three of the weekend’s games by one run.

“These games are character builders,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “There are a lot of teams out there scheduling some softer competition right now, and not learning many lessons. We’re going to learn from these close ballgames, and it’s only going to help us later on.”

The series opened Friday night, and started with plenty of action through the first four innings of play. Michigan jumped to a quick 1-0 lead courtesy of back-to-back hits, followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to bring home the run.

Scoring went dormant for a few innings, as both teams got into a rhythm of letting one or two runners to reach base and then working their way out of the jam. Junior left-handed pitcher Trent Szkutnik navigated through the opening innings of the game with the backing of some outstanding team defense — a stressed component of Bakich’s gameplan.

Houston (7-0) caused trouble for the Wolverines in the bottom of the fourth inning. Two singles and a sacrifice bunt put a pair of Cougars in scoring position with only one out. An infield hit plated the first run of the game, followed by a fielder’s choice that allowed Houston to take a 2-1 advantage.

Michigan put runners in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but failed to knock one home, and the final score rested at 2-1 in favor of the Cougars.

“Those were all what we call two-out RBI, and they’re worth their weight in gold,” Bakich said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get them this weekend. Those are always the difference in one-run games.”

The second game of the weekend was another low-scoring affair. No runs crossed the plate in regulation, and the Wolverines headed to extra innings for the third time in their first six games of the season. Saturday evening’s result fell in line with the other two extra-inning outings — a walk-off loss.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Evan Hill rebounded after a shaky first start last weekend, and came through with seven shutout innings for the Wolverines. But Houston right-hander Jake Lemoine gave an outing that tamed the hot Michigan bats.

Lemoine was clocked in the mid-90s, and is one of the best pitchers the Wolverines have faced so far this early season.

The Texas native dominated Michigan. Not only did he fail to allow a hit through 5.2 innings, but the Wolverine bats had trouble even getting ahead in the count until Lemoine began to fatigue in the seventh.

After freshman right fielder Johnny Slater was caught stealing in the middle of the next at bat, junior center fielder Jackson Glines ripped a deep shot to center that landed him on third base.

The hit ended Lemoine’s impressive four-hit, eight-strikeout outing. The Houston reliever retired the next Wolverine hitter to extinguish the threat.

Junior right-handed pitcher James Bourque came from the bullpen to throw the tail end of the game for Michigan, and was very solid, allowing one earned run off of three hits and two walks. That earned run came in the bottom of the 10th when the Cougars got runners on the corners and brought the winning run of the game home on a safety-squeeze bunt play.

The Wolverines took the diamond Sunday trying to avoid the sweep.

Redshirt junior first basemen Kendall Patrick provided all of Michigan’s run support with a second-inning solo home run and a two-run single in the fourth.

Starting pitching for the Wolverines was outstanding all weekend, and fifth-year senior pitcher Ben Ballantine wasn’t going to break that trend. After giving up a first-inning run to the Cougars, Ballantine settled into a nice groove through the middle part of the contest, retiring seven Houston hitters in a row.

“Our pitching coach lit a fire under my ass (after the first inning),” Ballentine said. “That got me pounding the zone the way I should have and put us in a good chance to win.”

Patrick’s three RBI were enough to give the Wolverines a lead through five innings, but when Bakich called to the bullpen in the added the bases, followed by a three-run double that put the Cougars up 4-3 heading into the final two innings.

Michigan failed to plate another run, and had to settle for a winless weekend in Texas.