For seventh straight time, baseball can’t keep pace with Eastern

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 16, 2014

The remaining fans in the stands leaned forward, unsure of the result. As the Eastern Michigan shortstop raised his arms, the umpire made a fist, signaling that the left fielder had in fact made the diving catch. The pitcher pumped his fist, the fans got up, and the ballgame was over.

For the seventh straight time, Michigan baseball fans left the crosstown matchup disappointed. The left fielder’s snag ended the game after two runners on gave the Wolverines (6-6 Big Ten, 16-20-1 overall) yet another opportunity to break through in the game. Despite 11 hits at the plate and 12 strikeouts on the mound, Michigan failed to execute and keep pace with the Eagles, falling 4-3 in 10 innings.

“There was just a lot of non-execution today — we didn’t play well at all,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We walked five leadoff hitters, three of them scored, we had a lot of missed bunts, and across the board, we didn’t play to win. That’s the bottom line.”

Despite a combined 18 hits, both teams struggled to push runs across throughout the game. The first real action occurred when an Eastern Michigan triple scored the contest's first run. Two pitches later, a double drove in a second run and ended senior right-hander Ben Ballantine’s night. Once the team ace, Ballantine has pitched just 8.2 total innings in his last three starts while posting a 10.81 ERA.

Filling in for Ballantine was right-hander Cam Wysocki. The freshman quickly settled things down for the Wolverines in the fourth, opening the door for junior infielder Kyle Jusick to blast his first career home run to right field to tie the game at two.

With the score tied again, the Wolverines restarted their struggles. Wysocki lasted only one out in the fifth inning before surrendering two baserunners and getting pulled. Junior right-hander Donnie Eaton took his place and hit one batter before an Eagles single gave the lead back to the visitors.

Following the hit, Eaton settled in and didn’t allow another baserunner while striking out seven in 4.2 innings of scoreless work, both personal bests in the best performance of his career.

“He looked great,” Bakich said. “He pounded the strike zone, he pitched with tempo. He went right after their hitters, he didn’t nibble, he just attacked. He looked like he was out there playing to win.”

Despite the solid pitching, Michigan’s offense failed to capitalize, keeping the score 3-2 into the seventh inning. With two outs, a double by sophomore infielder Jacob Cronenworth and misplay by the Eagles’ right fielder tied the game at three and put Cronenworth on third, but a groundout ended the threat.

In the loss, the Wolverines left 11 runners on base, the second-most of the season. Missed bunts, strikeouts and a lack of consistency kept Michigan runners at bay throughout the game.

“It’s about stringing the hits and stringing the quality at-bats together,” Bakich said. “We left a lot of guys on base and didn’t get the two-out RBIs when we needed them. The opportunities were there, but we weren’t able to string anything together and get any real offense going.”

The tie wasn’t broken until the 10th, when an Eastern Michigan. single to right gave the Eagles the go-ahead run. In the bottom half of the inning, two baserunners and an eight-pitch at bat to freshman outfielder Johnny Slater made things interesting, but Slater’s poke into left field was caught.

Dropping their second straight midweek game, the Wolverines failed to retain momentum from a successful weekend series against Illinois. With a trip to cellar-dwelling Purdue this weekend, Bakich is looking for more consistency.

“We’ve got four Big Ten weekends left, and for us it’s going to come down to consistency,” Bakich said. “If we’re going to have any shot at postseason play, we need to be a whole lot more consistent. We need to be trending upwards and continue that into each game. We can’t have setbacks like this.

“Our biggest opponent right now is ourselves.”