By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 6, 2014
With each passing inning, the season-high crowd at Central Michigan’s Theunissen Stadium thinned out further. By the ninth inning, the once-full parking lot was only about one-fifth full, and the only fans remaining inside were Michigan fans.
For the Michigan baseball team, things finally went as planned in a midweek game. Striking out 14 Chippewas and pouring on nine hits and ten walks in a 7-1 rout, the Wolverines (11-10 Big Ten, 23-25-1 overall) took care of business against Central Michigan (14-7 MAC, 29-20) Tuesday afternoon.
“Our guys did a nice job competing all around,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Our pitchers did a solid job and kept us in the driver’s seat the whole game. We competed pretty well in the batter’s box, just finding a way to get on base. We had the bases loaded a lot early, but were putting good swings on the ball and getting on base, and eventually we got the runs we needed.”
The game began with the Michigan offense loading the bases in each of the first three innings. Behind five walks by Central Michigan pitcher Adam Aldred, two hits and a Chippewa error, the Wolverines accumulated 13 base runners in the first three innings. Despite the success, Michigan tallied just two runs in that span, keeping the game close.
It wasn’t until there were two outs in the fourth inning — when junior designated hitter Dominic Jamett delivered a bases-loaded single to make it 4-0 — that the Wolverines took control. Michigan was then held scoreless until the eighth inning, but by then, the aggressive approach early on had taken its toll. The Wolverines accumulated 22 base runners in the game, never letting Central Michigan to relax.
“We were just trying to be aggressive at the plate today,” Jamett said. “And I think you saw a lot of that in the early innings. We didn’t get the results we wanted at first, but we were able to put the pressure on the pitcher, and that set the tone for the game.”
The success of the offense went hand-in-hand with the Wolverines’ success on the mound. Recording a season-high 14 strikeouts and coming one out short of the team’s first shutout since a 7-0 blanking of Toledo on May 8, 2013, Michigan was able to eliminate any threat the Chippewa bats posed.
Leading the charge on the mound was sophomore left-hander Evan Hill. Normally the team’s Friday night starter, Hill’s earned-run average had climbed from 3.33 to 4.23 in his past three starts. Looking to get back on track before a series against Ohio State and the Big Ten Tournament, Hill received the start in a lower-pressure situation.
Pitching before a hometown crowd on a limited pitch count, Hill made the most of his action, pitching four no-hit innings and allowing just two total base runners with five strikeouts. By showing an improved command, Hill was able to control the game early.
“Evan Hill set the tone very well in his four innings,” Bakich said. “What he was doing today was what he had been missing in his last few starts, and that was having command of his second pitch. He was spotting his fastball and curveball in any count, and the hitters weren’t able to keep up.”
Midweek games are designed to give teams extra opportunities to improve without counting toward the conference standings. Playing primarily smaller in-state teams, Bakich looks to use the games to build confidence and positive momentum. Despite the plan, the Wolverines’ 3-3 record in midweek games heading into Tuesday made it hard to keep any momentum going.
With a three-game win streak and arguably the most important series of the year against Ohio State set for this weekend, Bakich is hoping the win over Central Michigan can keep confidence high.
“Right now the emphasis on these midweek games is about keeping the positive momentum from the previous weekend and feeling good about ourselves,” Bakich said. “In the future, the games will play a huge role in our goal to gain an at-large bid (in the NCAA tournament) and be a perennial power, but for now we just want to compete every chance we can get.”