Even though they spent their spring break in the sun of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, last week was an educational one for the Michigan baseball team.
The young team learned about playing college baseball, and Michigan coach Rich Maloney learned a lot about his players.
Playing in the Wiregrass Classic, at Central Florida and in the GSU Invitational, the Wolverines finished a disappointing 3-4.
“These guys don’t want to lose,” Maloney said. “I’m not happy with 3-4. I don’t think anyone is around here, even though we’re working out any kinks.
Despite that sentiment, Maloney has continued to believe in the mantra that it’s not how his team starts, but how they finish.
Michigan can only hope that its finish is sweeter than its sour start. In their season opener against Alabama-Birmingham on Feb. 24, the Wolverines built a 4-1 lead through eight innings. They benefited from the strong pitching of fifth-year senior Drew Taylor, who at that point had surrendered just one run on three hits and two walks.
But in the top of the ninth inning, the Blazers exploded for four runs – the first two of which were credited to Taylor, the latter two to senior Jeff Niemiec, who got the loss.
In the bottom of the inning, the Wolverines had a chance to tie when fifth-year senior Jeff Kunkel singled with one out. Senior Mike Schmidt came on to pinch run, and he stole second base before advancing to third on a fly out. But he was stranded 90 feet from forcing extra innings when senior A.J. Scheidt flew out to center field.
“It was tough,” Taylor said. “For eight innings . they were never really threatening. It was kind of a crushing blow when they came back in the ninth.”
Two days later – after its Feb. 25 game against Troy was rained out – Michigan played a doubleheader against South Alabama and the Trojans.
After the Jaguars pounded the Wolverines by a 9-4 margin, Michigan got its first win of the season, 7-5 over Troy.
The Trojans scored five runs in the bottom of sixth inning to tie the Wolverines. Troy still had two runners on with two outs when Michigan freshman Adam Abraham came in and got shortstop Tom King to ground out.
Abraham continued his perfect pitching for the final three innings, and Michigan scored the winning run when sophomore Doug Pickens doubled in junior Brad Roblin in a two-out, seventh-inning rally.
The Wolverines beat Central Florida 6-3 on Wednesday. Senior Craig Murray allowed two runs on three hits in six innings for the win. Abraham pitched the final third and got the save.
Abraham’s play has temporarily ended Maloney’s search for a closer.
“We found someone who can handle that kind of pressure, who has some moxie,” Maloney said.
Michigan lost 8-6 to North Carolina-Asheville on Friday in what Maloney described as his team’s worst game. Although Maloney was impressed with his team’s defensive play in six of its seven games – especially since it has been limited to practicing indoors since the fall – this loss was the exception.
“Friday, for whatever reason, was the one game we didn’t play well which was very disheartening,” Maloney said.
The Wolverines scored two runs in both of the eighth and ninth innings, but their comeback bid fell short when sophomore Nate Recknagel struck out with runners on the corners in the ninth.
Michigan played much better Saturday, but the result did not show it. Down 3-0 to Georiga Southern in the eighth inning, the Wolverines scored two runs on three doubles by Scheidt, Pickens and junior Leif Mahler.
In the ninth inning, Kunkel drew a two-out walk and was pinch-run for by Schmidt, who once again wreaked havoc on the base path. He stole second and when the catcher’s throw went into center field, took third. The centerfielder could not cleanly come up with the ball, and Schmidt came around third and scored.
“My job at that point was to find any way on and keep the game alive . ,” Kunkel said. “(Schmidt) was able to make something happen . Shmidty never slowed down.”
But the momentum was shortlived. The Eagles scored on Abraham in the bottom of the tenth for a 4-3 win.
Michigan parlayed its improvement into a 9-4 win over LeMoyne yesterday. Junior Adam Hess – who was particularly impressive to Maloney over the week – earned the win.