Of all the ways the Michigan baseball team had lost games this year, a blown save was not one of them.
With a 3-1 loss to Eastern Michigan on Wednesday, cross that off the list.
The Wolverines (4-5 Big Ten, 11-24 overall) went into the ninth inning up 1-0, but given their luck this season, the lead was in jeopardy before the inning even started. Freshman Alex Lakatos was entering his third inning of work in the save situation and the middle of the Eagles’ order was due up in the final frame.
Center fielder Brent Ohrman led off the inning with a pop up in foul territory. But after initially catching the ball, freshman first baseman Brett Winger tripped while backpedaling and dropped the ball. Later in the at-bat, Ohrman singled to give Eastern Michigan (6-6 MAC, 21-15 overall) the spark it needed. Lakatos started to miss pitches low in the zone and the heart of the Eagles lineup started to hit lasers through the infield.
Second baseman Zack Leonard singled between the first and second basemen to load the bases and first baseman Rob Wendzicki did the same to tie the game. With one out and the bases loaded, shortstop Tucker Rubino grounded Lakatos’s first pitch up the middle. Sophomore shortstop Derek Dennis grabbed the ball, stepped on second and threw to first for what would have been the final out of the inning, sending the game into the bottom of the ninth, tied.
But the throw to complete the double play bounced before it reached Winger and he could not corral it. Two runs scored on the play and the Eagles took a 3-1 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We didn’t make plays in the ninth inning,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t make them. They were tough plays, but if you make the play, the ball game is different.”
Lakatos came in to pitch with one out in the seventh inning and held Eastern Michigan scoreless the rest of the frame and then again in the eighth. But the last three outs of the eight-out save caused the trouble.
“It’s definitely tough with the longer save opportunities, especially when you’ve got to go through the batting order a couple times,” Lakatos said. “The second time, the guys get back around and they’ve seen pitches and they know what to sit on.”
Added Maloney: “I had total confidence he was going to get it done and I’m sure he had total confidence he was going to get it done. We just didn’t make plays.”
The game was scoreless entering the bottom of the sixth inning, when Michigan broke through with the first run on junior Coley Crank’s RBI triple past the center fielder that scored freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill.
“I had two strikes on me so I wasn’t really guessing a certain pitch,” Crank said. “I was more reacting and he made a mistake and put one over the plate for me.”
But that was all the offense the Wolverines could muster. They recorded just six hits on the day — Crank’s triple was the only extra-base hit.
Dennis played in his first game since injuring his ankle on March 27 against Michigan State. Though he was 0-for-3 at the plate, he displayed good mobility in the field.
Fifth-year senior second baseman Anthony Toth and sophomore center fielder Patrick Biondi were not in the starting lineup — both regulars were given the day off.
Michigan will travel to Iowa (3-6, 13-20) this weekend to take on the last-place team in the Big Ten.
“I think it’s important for us to have a short-term memory,” Crank said. “We need to focus not on today, but on this weekend because the Big Ten is more important.”