Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich knows his first two years have been focused on rebuilding the team from the ground up. It’s why the Wolverines haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in his tenure. Among the disparities in the pitching rotation and the batter’s box, Michigan showed glimpses of the contender it could’ve been in the Big Ten.
With the season over, the Daily breaks down the best and worst of the Wolverines in 2014.
Best non-conference win:
Michigan went through the entire regular season finding its groove, and it culminated in the Wolverines’ final game against Kansas. Finishing the year with the third-best record in the Big 12, the Jayhawks were on the bubble for earning an NCAA Tournament bid, which they ultimately did. Beating Kansas wouldn’t be simple, but Michigan was on a roll and needed to continue momentum moving into the Big Ten Tournament. Though the Wolverines dropped the series’ first game, they rebounded the next day with their first shutout of the season. The mound saw a combination of senior pitching from left-hander Logan McAnallen and right-handers Ben Ballantine and Alex Lakatos. Sophomore left-hander Evan Hill finished the job.
Worst non-conference loss:
This season, Michigan played eight midweek non-conference games at the Wilpon Complex. What were meant to be easygoing breaks from tough weekends against conference teams turned into narrow wins or losses. After taking the first two Wednesday contests, the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame, 9-1. Michigan committed six errors in its worst defensive performance of the season while mustering just four hits.
Best conference win:
Michigan opened conference play with a three-game series against Indiana, the eventual conference champion. Coming off an appearance at the 2013 College World Series, the Hoosiers were on their way to becoming nationally ranked and had all odds in their favor to sweep the series in Bloomington. After losing the first two in the series, Michigan came out Sunday determined to avoid the sweep. With a bases-clearing double from sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes and a diving catch from freshman right fielder Jackson Lamb, the Wolverines went on to earn their only win against a ranked team this year.
Worst conference loss:
The Wolverines’ most embarrassing loss in the Big Ten came at the hands of Nebraska on April 25, the opening game of the series. In the second inning, Michigan loaded the bases with no outs and failed to score any runs. As the Wolverines continued to fall farther behind the Cornhuskers, they woke up at the last minute in the ninth, by scoring three runs. Though Michigan had seven straight quality at-bats that inning, it wasn’t enough in a 6-4 loss. It wouldn’t be the last time Nebraska would defeat the Wolverines, either. That would come in the Big Ten Tournament to end their season.
Best postseason win:
Following an Indiana shutout, Michigan’s postseason hopes were hanging by a thread in an elimination game against Iowa. The next day, the Wolverines’ offense was revived, extending their short-lived run in the Big Ten Tournament. Behind Hill — who pitched 7.2 innings with a career-high eight strikeouts — Michigan scored seven runs in the middle three innings, tallying a total of 13 hits.
Aside from the win over the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines’ postseason hitting had been greatly hampered. But they gained a fighting chance with Maezes, who batted .429 with two triples, a homer and five RBI. As the only Michigan player to make the Big Ten All-Tournament Team, he helped his team climb out of two-run deficit for the win against Minnesota with a three-run homer in the seventh inning. He also hit a two-run triple that broke a 1-1 tie against Iowa to pave the way for the Wolverines’ second win, and later scored his team’s only run against Nebraska. Without Maezes, the postseason would’ve been over after two games instead of four.