Their opponents’ big innings were too big and the Wolverines’ big innings weren’t big enough in the opening weekend of the Michigan baseball team’s season.
Michigan dropped all three games of the Big Ten-Big East Challenge in St. Petersburg, Fla. after being outscored by a combined 17 runs in the losses.
Pinpointing exactly where the Michigan baseball team fell short this weekend might be a useless task, as the Wolverines’ inconsistent pitching, scattered hitting and porous defense all contributed to their fate against Louisville, St. John’s and Connecticut.
The crooked number wasn’t kind to Michigan (0-3) — high-scoring innings hurt the Wolverines in all three games.
“The number one thing we preach is staying out of the big inning,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “And the big inning occurs from walks, hit batsmen or errors. That just can’t happen, but it did.”
On Friday, No. 22 Louisville’s four-run second inning put the Cardinals ahead, 5-0 — a deficit Michigan chipped away at, but couldn’t overcome en route to a 6-3 loss.
Two four-run innings on Saturday helped No. 31 St. John’s make easy work of the Wolverines in the Red Storm’s 13-6 victory. Michigan sophomore starting pitcher Ben Ballantine was chased in the fourth inning after surrendering six runs on nine hits, capped by a three-run double from sophomore outfielder Jeremy Baltz.
“There were several times where we could have stopped the bleeding if we would have been able to make one more pitch in a pressure situation,” Maloney said, pointing to Baltz’s base-clearing double. “That one pitch set the momentum on fire for them. Had we made that pitch and got out of the situation, the whole game could have been different.”
And Sunday, it was shoddy defense that led to No. 17 Connecticut’s big innings — a six-run second inning and a five-run third. With two outs and only one run across in the second inning, sophomore shortstop Derek Dennis committed an error on a fielder’s choice that would have ended the inning.
Five runs later, the blowout was on. Michigan tallied four errors on the day, which led to six unearned runs.
But despite the weekend’s deflating results, Michigan did receive promising performances from a handful of players. Sophomore first baseman Garrett Stephens went 4-for-12 and knocked in eight of the Wolverines’ 18 runs in the Challenge.
Meanwhile, freshman rightfielder Michael O’Neill — nephew of former major leaguer Paul O’Neill — earned his way into the third spot in the lineup against Connecticut to finish 5-for-11 in the series. He also starred in the field, gunning down two runners with outfield assists and registering a running catch. Maloney said it was just the second time he has batted a freshman third in the lineup.
“It’s a big confidence boost that Coach has confidence in me to hit me third — that’s big,” O’Neill said. “I think guys on the team know that (I’m) for real.”
Michigan also had to deal with some of its players getting their first collegiate starts. Stephens, O’Neill, redshirt sophomore infielder Kevin Krantz and freshman third baseman Alex Lakatos all started their first games this weekend.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who don’t have experience that we have a lot of confidence in and that we think over time are going to be really good players,” Maloney said. “We’re going to be going through some growing pains and we have a very difficult schedule to go through those growing pains.”
In order to make sure that the Wolverines’ come out with their first win of the season next weekend, Maloney said improvement on pitching and defense would be emphasized this week in practice.
“We just have to get better so that at some point we can learn from all these experiences,” Maloney said.