The skies were gray, the temperatures were cold, and snow flurries fell from the sky, but freshman right-hander James Bourque felt none of that.

Despite the unfavorable pitching conditions, Bourque hurled a superb performance in Michigan’s 2-1 loss against Bowling Green (2-7 MAC, 12-20 overall). Following a solid outing against Central Michigan last Wednesday, he exhibited signs of becoming a consistent force in the starting rotation — at times he was brilliant, and at other times, when he was struggling, he displayed the ability to work out of trouble.

In 5.1 innings of work for the Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 15-18), Bourque allowed five hits and one unearned run while striking out six batters against a Falcons offense that entered the matchup batting near .300.

“He pitched a great game today,” said sophomore first baseman Brett Winger. “He got ahead of all of his hitters and his breaking ball was pretty nasty. We just didn’t get the job done for him.”

After allowing a double to Falcons left fielder Andrew Kubuski in the bottom of the first inning — a fly ball that was misplayed by freshman left fielder Will Drake — Bourque responded by retiring the next eight batters he faced, while striking out three.

“He’s got good stuff,” said Michigan coach Rich Maloney. “He was throwing three pitches for strikes, so I think it’s just been (Bourque) getting out there and getting more comfortable.”

Though he was stellar early in the game, Bourque’s improvement as a starter was most visible in the subsequent innings. After silencing Bowling Green’s bats for three innings, Bourque found himself headed for trouble during the next two.

With one out in the fourth frame, he relinquished back-to-back singles before hitting a batter with a pitch. But with the bases loaded, Bourque remained unflustered. He struck out designated hitter Patrick Lancaster and got right fielder Jesse Rait to ground into a fielder’s choice to get himself out of the jam.

The bottom of the fifth inning brought more of the same for Bourque. After retiring the first two batters, he hit center fielder Jake Thomas with a pitch and gave up a single to third baseman Logan Walker, putting runners on first and second base with the heart of Bowling Green’s lineup coming up. But with the count full, he fanned Kubuski to leave both base runners stranded.

“I think (my biggest improvement) has mostly been throwing strikes early, especially with my off-speed pitches,” Bourque said. “Getting 0-1 and 0-2 on hitters, and then being able to throw three pitches for strikes, that’s big for me, so it helps a lot.”

After allowing an unearned run with one out in the fifth inning, Bourque was relieved by sophomore right-hander Jake Engels with the game tied 1-1. Despite his team giving up a late run to the Falcons, Maloney was pleased with Bourque’s continued success.

“He has grown as a pitcher and has gotten better, so that’s encouraging,” Maloney said.

Once a liability for the Wolverines, Bourque has transformed into a reliable midweek option. In his first two starts, against Chicago State and Eastern Michigan, he allowed six earned runs and walked nine batters in 6.1 innings, but his last two outings have showcased a much different hurler.

In Michigan’s 7-3 victory against Central Michigan, Bourque allowed just two hits and one earned run in three innings to collect the win. Though he earned a no-decision against Bowling Green, he lowered his ERA from 4.70 to 3.48, and his 5.1 innings were the most he has thrown as a starter.

“I feel a lot more comfortable (starting) and it’s a lot more fun, especially when you’re throwing strikes,” Bourque said.

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