Last weekend, the Michigan baseball team played the New York Mets, a professional team. This weekend against Arizona, it just seemed that way.
The Wolverines (10-5), who hadn’t been shut out since May 16 vs. Northwestern, were held scoreless twice over the weekend en route to being swept in a three-game weekend series at Arizona (11-7). Michigan kept Friday and Saturday’s games close, losing 2-0 and 9-7, but was romped by the Wildcats 14-0 on Sunday.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney said he expected the offense to struggle coming into the season and the pitching and defense to carry the Wolverines. But that has not been the case, as the offense has been a great surprise.
The 25th-ranked Wolverines are batting .316 as a team so far this season – a point below last season’s final average. Michigan’s defense had struggled before this weekend with 17 errors on the season, but didn’t have a single one against Arizona. But the usually effective pitching staff allowed 43 baserunners.
Michigan didn’t have many pleasant surprises over the weekend.
“(I’m) very, very disappointed,” Maloney said. “We don’t like losing. I don’t care who we’re playing. Lose three games and … quite frankly, they embarrassed us, they played so well. We don’t like taking a whuppin’ like that. So we’ll work real hard so that doesn’t happen again.”
The series was a chance for Michigan to seek revenge. A 4-3 defeat to the Wildcats was one of the two losses that eliminated the Wolverines from last year’s NCAA Regional.
The team has changed considerably since then. In that game, then-freshman centerfielder Ryan LaMarre was batting in the ninth position. This season, he is batting third, and his 10-game hitting streak was snapped on Sunday.
Senior Chris Fetter started the opening game of the series and pitched into the eighth inning, giving up just two runs, one of which came on a passed ball in the fifth inning. Arizona catcher Dwight Childs tripled to right field with one out, putting the pressure on Fetter to make sure the Wildcats didn’t bring home the run.
On Friday, Michigan got on base in every inning except for the eighth, and stranded 11 men. It just couldn’t manufacture runs, a weakness that plagued the team all weekend.
In Saturday’s game, Michigan’s offense scrambled to an early five-run lead. But in the bottom of the third, Arizona exploded for six runs, for a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“(In the third inning), we gave too many of what we call freebies,” Maloney said. “Walks, wild pitches, things like that and it really, really hurt us. And it gave Arizona the opportunity to get the big inning. And if you get the big inning, you usually win the game. … And it cost us.”
Maloney said Michigan’s ability to limit the “freebies” was one of the reasons it entered the Arizona series with a 10-2 record. Maloney said Arizona had fewer opportunities to score than Michigan, but the Wildcats cashed in on their chances and the Wolverines didn’t.
Maloney attributed some of the issues to the absence of junior catcher Chris Berset, who will be out for what Maloney said will be “quite a while.” Berset has already missed six games due to injury.
The mishaps on offense and defense culminated in the 14-0 blowout on Sunday, in which Arizona had 20 hits. By contrast, Michigan had 28 in all three games combined.
“(Sunday’s game) was just a snowball effect,” Maloney said. “It was just one of those days where they got on us and we just couldn’t get anything going. … We just played bad.”
The series ended the team’s long, season-opening road trip. Michigan now returns to Ann Arbor and the friendly confines of the Wilpon Baseball Complex, where the Wolverines were 22-4 last season. Its home opener is Friday against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW).
And Michigan is ready to forget its misfortunes in the desert.
“(Arizona) won all three,” Maloney said. “And we’re not used to that in our program. And we’ll go back and we’ll work extremely hard. And I’ll do a better job, our team will do a better job and we’ll do everything we can to figure it out because we don’t like losing.”