Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Yesterday, the Michigan baseball team learned how right the Hall of Fame catcher was, when it fell to Illinois 12-11. Just when it looked like the Wolverines (6-6 Big Ten, 11-18 overall) were in control of the game, everything came crashing down.
With a 10-5 lead over the Fighting Illini (5-7, 18-9), Michigan gave up seven runs in the eighth inning.
“We just didn’t make some good pitches, (we) put some guys on and just didn’t make the plays,” interim coach Chris Harrison said.
To start the bottom of the eighth, Tim Leveque came in to relieve starting pitcher Jeff Trzos. Leveque walked the first batter he faced to start the inning that would ultimately spell disaster for the Wolverines. After a bunt and then a successful double play, Illinois had two outs and a runner on third. The situation looked grim for the trailing Illini, but that’s when the floodgates opened. Illinois jumped all over Leveque. The Illini tore him up to the tune of six earned runs in a matter of minutes. The five-run lead the Wolverines enjoyed at the beginning of the inning quickly changed into a one-run deficit.
This was enough for the Michigan coaching staff, which sent in Chad Garson to relieve the struggling Leveque. Garson gave up one unearned run before getting out of the inning. But the damage was done, as the Wolverines now trailed by two runs heading into the top of the ninth.
With Brandon Jominy and Brock Koman in scoring position and one out in the top of the ninth, Mike Sokol stepped in to pinch hit for right fielder Gino Lollio. Sokol doubled to left center, but Koman was held at third while Jominy scored. The Wolverines were unable to wave Koman home because of the good recover of Illinois centerfielder Brandon Cashman, who-after letting the ball go over his head-made a good throw to the cutoff man.
Nate Wright then grounded out to the pitcher for the final out of the game, with runners stranded on second and third.
“We had good at bats,” Harrison said. “(The team) knew that we had scored a lot, and obviously we felt that we could come back and tie the game. I thought we came real close.”
Michigan enjoyed offensive success throughout the game, but could not make up the deficit after the swing in momentum. Up until the ninth, the Wolverines put on a hitting display spearheaded by two unlikely sources.
Michigan second baseman Jordan Cantalamessa, not known for his power, helped get the Wolverines’ offense started in the second inning with his first homerun of the season. The next inning, Cantalamessa stepped to the plate and belted his second homerun of the day, this time to left-center.
Not to be outdone by his teammate, Michigan catcher Jake Fox, who had been struggling from the plate before this weekend, also blasted a pair of homeruns yesterday against the Illini. The sophomore catcher had a career-high five RBIs. Fox, who led the Wolverines in hitting in Big Ten play last season, found his swing as he drove in seven runs and was 6-for-10 in three starts over the weekend.
But even those outstanding numbers were not good enough for Fox, the consummate teammate, who values winning more than personal success.
“I had a great weekend,” Fox said. ” But sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. Sometimes you feel down with the way things turned out.”