By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 17, 2014
The ball flew off of Dakota Smith’s bat, and suddenly all eyes were in the sky. With three runs already on the board in the ninth inning, the two-on, two-out fly ball by the Kansas outfielder would determine if Michigan still belonged in the game.
A hit would make the Jayhawks’ lead insurmountable, while a catch could cut the rally short and give the Wolverines enough momentum to potentially start one of their own in the next frame.
But after errors, wild pitching and tame hitting had put already put Michigan in a hole, no one was surprised when the Wolverine outfielders stopped to gaze at the ball as it traveled well over the left-field wall.
The three-run homer sealed the deal Saturday as the No. 22 Jayhawks (15-9 Big 12, 34-21 overall) used a six-run ninth inning to take the first of a two-game non-conference series against Michigan, 8-2.
“The story of the game was us giving (Kansas) too many chances to win,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We didn’t make many winning plays on either side of the ball, and the results eventually caught up to us.”
Despite scoring eight runs, the Wolverines (13-11 Big Ten, 27-27-1 overall) held Kansas to just six hits and looked to be in control for the first seven and a half innings.
The hot start was fueled by junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik and freshman left-hander Brett Adcock. The normal weekend starters kept the Big 12’s No. 3 offense at bay, not allowing a hit and striking out seven in five combined innings.
At the plate, missed opportunities became a common theme for Michigan. Leaving five runners in scoring position and loading up the bases with no outs in the sixth, the Wolverines’ bottom six hitters went just 2-for-22.
“Neither team seemed into it for the first six innings,” Bakich said. “Both teams woke up, but we had a lot of chances to put that game away earlier on.”
The scoreless tie was finally broken in the seventh, when junior outfielder Kevin White stole third, then scrambled home on a throwing error by the Kansas catcher.
The Jayhawks responded in the eighth with two runs on singles past sophomore infielders Travis Maezes and Jacob Cronenworth.
After Maezes made his way around the bases to tie the game in the eighth, the Michigan faithful were brought to their feet. The conference saves leader, Cronenworth, was coming in to close, and the offense was finally showing life. The home team had a chance to steal a game from a ranked opponent for the first time all season.
But in a nightmarish ninth for the Wolverines, nothing went according to plan. Cronenworth allowed the first four Jayhawk batters to reach on a hit, error, walk and hit batter to score the go-ahead run with no outs, but Kansas was just getting started. A two-run single extended the lead, and Smith’s bomb put Michigan away for good.
Just four days away from the Big Ten Tournament, Bakich is looking to quickly regain the intensity that allowed the Wolverines to go 7-1 since May 3.
“We need to come into these games with the same approach as if it were the (Big Ten) Tournament,” Bakich said. “Right now, the only thing that matters is Sunday’s game, and making sure we come ready to compete and win, because we didn’t do that today.”