A win during the second game of Sunday’s double header
would have meant a share of the Big Ten lead for the Michigan
baseball team. But sloppy defense and a pair of blown scoring
opportunities led the Wolverines to falter 6-3 against Michigan
State and a fall to fourth place in the standings.

Michigan Baseball
Redshirt sophomore Jeff Kunkel delivered a double and a home run Sunday in a losing effort. (TONY DING/Daily)

“We are still right in it, which is nice,” Michigan
coach Rich Maloney said. “But, at the same token, we’ve
had opportunities where we could be the leader here.”

With a runner on second base in the second inning, Michigan
State’s Erik Morris hit a ball into right field, six inches
inside the foul line. But first base umpire Dave Buck threw his
arms in the air to signal a foul ball. Morris wasn’t fazed as
he stepped back in the box and drilled the next pitch out to put
the Spartans on the board, 2-0.

Michigan starting pitcher, junior Michael Penn, turned in
another solid outing. But his exit from the game was not exactly a
fitting one. As he faced the first batter of the eighth, Penn
tossed two lame fastballs that drew Maloney from the dugout.

“He was around 96-pitches, so I said ‘No, I
can’t wait (to pull him). I just can’t make a mistake
here,’” Maloney said.

Redshirt sophomore catcher Jeff Kunkel rifled a pitch in the
second off the top of the right-centerfield fence for a double.
During his next at-bat in the fourth, Kunkel tied the game at two
when he hit the ball just one foot higher, depositing the pitch
over the fence and driving in sophomore A.J. Scheidt, who was also
swinging a hot bat, in the process.

“The (home run) was kind of a hanging curveball,”
Kunkel said. “I just got the bat head out.”

Down by a run in the seventh, Michigan used a single and a pair
of walks to set the table for Scheidt and Kunkel. But Michigan
State reliever Adam White dialed in, sending the duo back to the
dugout with successive strikeouts to end the threat.

Another chance with two runners on came about in the ninth.
Scheidt popped out and Kunkel did the same, blooping out to center
field. Senior DH Brandon Roberts followed with a strikeout to end
the game.

“I had a big chance to help the team there at the
end,” Kunkel said. “The second (at bat) I had a good
pitch. I just got under it.”

Freshman Leif Mahler continued to sub for the injured sophomore
Jeremy Goldschmeding and, on Sunday, had an uncharacteristically
difficult sixth inning. Mahler saw a ball roll under his diving
arms, a bad hop skip off of his glove and a snap pickoff from
Kunkel sneak past him.

“(Jeremy) is still a little shaky,” Maloney said.
“(Mahler) has been playing well, so we’re not going to
rush it.”

During the early game Sunday, which had been originally
scheduled for Saturday, Redshirt sophomore Paul Hammond made his
first start since undergoing Tommy John Surgery on his elbow.
Despite breath-chilling temperatures, Hammond baffled the Spartan
hitters, tossing a four-hitter in Michigan’s 10-2 win.

Only two of Michigan’s eight Big Ten losses have been by more
than one-run, both coming last weekend to the Spartans.
Saturday’s 13-4 loss was the first, and Sunday’s loss
the second.

“Like I’ve been saying all along, we are so close
yet we are millions of miles away,” Maloney said.

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