Wolverines unable to finish against Cal, start the season 0-3

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By Shannon Lynch, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 17, 2013

The Michigan baseball team headed to Berkeley this weekend to take on the California Golden Bears in a three-game series, and the outcome was strangely reminiscent of the previous season – the Wolverines were swept, losing two games in extra innings and their final game in the bottom of the ninth.

The series began Friday afternoon, when Michigan took the early lead in the second inning on an RBI from sophomore shortstop Dylan Delaney. The Wolverines picked up another run in the third, but Cal answered quickly, earning one run off of senior pitcher Ben Ballantine and another off his reliever, redshirt junior Logan McAnallen. The score was tied at two until senior captain Patrick Biondi earned an RBI off a double in the fourth, giving Michigan the lead.

With the score at 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth, sophomore pitcher Trent Szkutnick allowed a run to tie the game, sending it into extra innings. California came out with the win in the 11th inning off an RBI from junior Andrew Knapp. Szkutnick, who had five strikeouts in the previous three innings, was credited with the loss.

Although the Wolverines couldn’t pull out a win, Michigan coach Erik Bakich spoke highly of Szkutnick’s performance.

“He absolutely pounded the strike zone and had great energy about him,” Bakich said. “I thought he pitched well enough for us to close out the game and win, but we just couldn’t make it happen.”

Junior right fielder Michael O’Neill, recently voted Big Ten Preseason Player to Watch, went 3-for-4 in the second game with a pair of doubles, a run scored and a run batted in.

“We lost game one, but the ultimate goal is to win the series and we were still in a position to win this series,” O’Neill said.

Tied at one at the top of the fourth, Michigan’s offense exploded, beginning with a solo home run by freshman pitcher Jacob Cronenworth – the first of his career. Delaney reached first on a throwing error and moved to third on a Biondi single. O’Neill hit his second double of the day to send Delaney home, and an infield single from freshman third baseman Travis Maezes brought in Biondi. O’Neill stole home on a wild pitch to finish out the inning with a 5-1 lead.

The Wolverines’ momentum started to dissipate, though. In the bottom of the fifth, sophomore pitcher James Bourque let up a two-run home run by Knapp to cut the lead to two.

The game was tied 5-5 at the end of nine and once again, the game headed into extra innings. This time, the Golden Bears shut Michigan down right away – they didn’t allow a single Wolverine hit in the 10th, and scored off an RBI to end the game, 6-5.

“Coach basically said we were playing not to lose instead of extending the lead,” O’Neill said. “If you get a hit here and a hit there, a 5-1 lead can turn into an 8-1 lead and then the game is out of reach.”

On Sunday, the team’s offense was visibly deflated, but freshman pitcher Evan Hill had a terrific performance on the mound in his collegiate debut. He pitched seven innings, allowing only one run and four hits by California’s strong lineup.

“I thought he showed the pitch ability, the confidence and the presence of an upperclassmen,” Bakich said. “He did everything we could have wanted him to do and put our team in a position to get a ‘W.’ ”

His performance wasn’t enough to propel the team to victory, though. Hill allowed his only run in the sixth inning, and the Wolverines held the lead at one until the eighth inning when Michigan tied the game off a double by Biondi.

It looked as if the game would go to extra innings once again, but California loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth and scored the winning run off an RBI by freshman Brian Celsi, sealing a 2-1 victory. The Golden Bears had successfully swept the Wolverines.

“We have to just put the game away,” Bakich said. “When you lose three one-run games in walk-off fashion, that’s not easy for anyone to swallow, but we are going to solidify some roles in our bullpen and this was a good learning experience for all of us as we continue to grow and improve.”