Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney peered up at the scoreboard during the middle of the third inning against Oakland yesterday.
He said later he was embarrassed at what he saw, and so was the rest of his clubhouse.
After dropping two games to sub-.500 Mid-American Conference teams, the Wolverines found themselves down 8-0 at home to another team they were supposed to beat.
“It was a low point for all of us,” Maloney said. “I didn’t want to say anything; I just hoped someone would step up.”
Maloney’s silence must have spoken louder than any mid-game speech could have — because with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Wolverines rallied with a nine-run offensive explosion and solid play down the stretch to win in marathon fashion, 14-13.
After last weekend’s series against Iowa, both senior outfielder Kenny Fellows and junior first baseman Dufek expressed their displeasure that the offense couldn’t complement the pitchers’ solid efforts.
When each Wolverine pitcher in the Grizzlies’ six-run third inning lasted just one out yesterday, and junior reliever Jeff DeCarlo left the game with an ERA over 17, both Fellows and Dufek knew that it was in the offense’s hands to manufacture key runs.
Three hours and forty-five minutes into the game, with the sun going down in right field, Dufek slammed a pop fly deep into centerfield. Oakland centerfielder Justin Wilson lost his footing and the strong wind blew Dufek’s ball past his glove. Sophomore centerfielder Ryan LaMarre beat the throw to home to notch the eventual winning run.
Dufek’s third double of the day was the difference, as the slugger led the offensive surge with three RBI in the Wolverines’ 15-hit effort.
Maloney used five pitchers up to that point — including the three-hurler third inning — and with the final half-inning approaching, Dufek approached his coach.
“He told me he wanted the ball,” Maloney said. “They were so tired of losing. There was no doubt in my mind (to put him in).”
As Michigan’s closer for the second day in a row, Dufek allowed just one hit to end the game in swift fashion and register his second save of the season.
“He was lights out, and he’s been doing it all season,” Fellows said. “For him to come out and give us that double and go back onto the mound and finish it, that was huge.”
But Dufek’s double wasn’t the only gamechanger yesterday.
With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Fellows slammed the ball down the third baseline to score two and spark the Wolverines’ comeback. Fellows, who has the highest batting average on the team at .374, has coupled with Dufek to stimulate the offense for much of the season thus far.
“It came from all angles today,” Dufek said. “And then you see the other guys doing it, and it boosts the confidence that a lot of guys didn’t have. Our hitting was contagious.”
Senior second baseman Kevin Cislo, who was originally scratched from the lineup after tweaking his shoulder against Bowling Green on Tuesday, told Maloney that he wanted to be a part of the effort. And in the top of the ninth inning, the tri-captain got his wish.
Maloney said that his captain’s determination told the tale of the comeback effort.
“We were down so far mentally,” Maloney said. “Psychologically, we needed that game. So when two guys approach me and say they need to come in, that says something.”
With an important three-game series against Penn State looming this weekend, the Wolverines needed a mental comeback to maintain strong positioning in the Big Ten.
At this time last season, the Wolverines had won eleven straight games after a 5-5 start, a turnaround that led them to a 42-12 record and a top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Wednesday’s win could be that catalyst that Michigan need to make the same kind of run.
“We’ve been making mistakes,” Maloney said. “But we’re still 17-8 — 17-8 with a whole new roster. That’s something.”