With myriad obstacles in its way, the Michigan baseball team will have its character tested this weekend.
The Wolverines (9-9) were originally scheduled to host Western Illinois (4-13) in their first home series of the season, but they’ll now play at Adrian College due to the unplayable field condition at Ray Fischer Stadium.
In addition to the location change, Michigan will also have to deal with temperatures in the low 40s and winds up to 10 miles per hour — a stark contrast to the warm weather the Wolverines have become accustomed to in the first month of the season.
The weather, though, won’t be the only thing sending shivers up Michigan coach Erik Bakich’s spine. The absence of senior outfielder Patrick Biondi — who’s suffering from a sprained thumb that also caused him to miss last weekend’s game — against the Leathernecks will also be a big concern for Bakich.
“Injuries are a part of sports and every college baseball team deals with injuries at some point or another in a season,” Bakich said. “As unfortunate as it is to lose Pat for a couple of weeks, it’s just something we can’t make excuses about, and we have to find a way to overcome it. Someone is going to have to step up.”
Replacing Biondi’s production will be an arduous task as he leads the team with a .493 on-base percentage and is second on the team with a .393 batting average. Junior outfielder Michael O’Neill filled in for Biondi last weekend.
O’Neill currently leads the team with a .404 batting average and nine doubles. O’Neill, who typically starts in right field and bats second in the order (behind Biondi), will likely shift over to centerfield and bat leadoff, as he did last weekend.
Although the transition isn’t an easy one, O’Neill, like Bakich, isn’t looking for excuses while Biondi is sidelined.
“We have to bide our time without him and continue to play well and not use it as an excuse,” O’Neill said.
Biondi is expected to be out of his cast sometime next week and will be evaluated further to determine if he will play in Michigan’s Big Ten opener against Purdue next weekend.
Though Western Illinois doesn’t have a strong record, the Leathernecks have gone up against stiff competition. They picked up a quality win against Arkansas.
“They are one of those teams that are going to be scrappy, and they are well coached,” Bakich said.
Western Illinois hasn’t received great offensive productivity, so the focus for the Wolverines will be to continue this trend.
“You have to be able to pitch to contact,” Bakich said. “The best thing we can do as a pitching staff is absolutely pound the strike zone and force them to make contact.”
After a weekend in which Michigan went 1-2 and scored just nine runs, the Wolverines will look to get back to basics offensively.
“Put the emphasis back on what we do best offensively, which is to have quality at-bats, getting guys on base, putting pressure on defense and manufacturing runs,” Bakich said.
Michigan will play one game Friday at 11 a.m. and then will play a doubleheader starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday. After the conclusion of this series, Michigan will travel to New York City to take on Yale at Citi Field on Tuesday before returning home Wednesday for its home opener against Western Michigan.