The Michigan baseball team had to wait two extra days to see how it would stack up against the best of the Big Ten. The result: Michigan hung tough with Minnesota for a while but could not get a clutch hit to seal a victory.
After games were cancelled on Friday and Saturday due to inclement weather, the Wolverines (3-3 Big Ten, 12-12 overall) and the Golden Gophers (6-0, 16-10) finally got together for two seven-inning games at the Fish yesterday.
Down 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning of game two of the doubleheader, Michigan stormed back by stringing together four hits in a row and seven hits in eight at-bats. After three consecutive singles by the bottom of the lineup to load the bases, lead-off hitter Gino Lollio smacked a double down the third-base line, bringing home two runs. After a fielder’s choice off the bat of Mike Sokol, Brock Koman singled to center field chasing Minnesota pitcher C.J. Woodrow from the game. Michigan took a 6-4 lead into the fifth inning.
Minnesota did not wait long to get its runs back. With Ben Pattee on third and one out, Scott Welch hit a comebacker to reliever Drew Taylor, who threw to Koman at third to catch Pattee in a rundown. Koman chased Pattee down and dove to apply the tag, but when Koman hit the ground, the ball came loose and Pattee was ruled safe.
“It was a critical mistake,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We caught the guy off and had him, but the ball got away. It was just a freak play.”
Moloney came out to argue the call to no avail.
“He said he saw it clearly and he was right on top of it so, that’s the way it goes,” Maloney said.
Minnesota added another run in the inning to tie the game at six.
In the top of the sixth, Minnesota grabbed the lead on another botched run-down play. Michigan pitcher Ali Husain picked off Pattee, but Michigan shortstop Nick Rudden could not handle the throw to second, and Minnesota’s Sam Steidl scored from third.
“I don’t think there is that much difference between these two teams,” Maloney said. “We made some mistakes, and they capitalized on them. That’s what good teams do.”
Michigan answered in the sixth inning when Brandon Roberts came up with the bases loaded and launched a ball deep down the right field line. The Wolverines raced to the top of the dugout to watch the ball clear the fence and hit off of the field house beyond the fence. The home plate umpire raised his arm to signal … a foul ball.
“When he hit it, I thought it was going to be fair,” Lollio said.
Later in the at bat, Roberts was hit by a pitch, scoring Sokol. It was the fourth hit batsman for Minnesota pitchers in the two games.
“That was sort of a fluke but we tell our players to be tough and to get down there, we need runners,” Maloney said.
The next batter, Chris Burhams, struck out with the bases loaded, stranding three runners; Michigan would strand 11 for the game and five in their last three turns at bat. The Wolverines had 17 hits on the day, but managed to score just seven runs.
“We had runners in scoring position the whole game,” Koman said. “But we couldn’t come through.”
The Wolverines had a chance to win after Craig Murray pitched a scoreless seventh inning. Nate Wright led off with a single to center and was sacrificed over to second by Rudden. With the whole Michigan squad standing at the top of the dugout anticipating a game-winning hit, Lollio grounded out and Sokol struck out with the winning run standing 90 feet from the plate.
One more chance was all Minnesota needed. With two outs, Murray came close on a few two-strike pitches before walking Steidl. The walk was followed by a Pattee double of the wall in left-center to score Steidl. Michigan could not answer again, and Minnesota claimed a hard-faught, 8-7 victory.
“We had opportunities to get the final run in, and we couldn’t do it,” Maloney said.
“They found a way to win, and that’s what winning programs do.”
The first game was not nearly as close as the second. The game was tied 1-1 after four innings, but Minnesota broke it open in the fifth. A walk and a single were followed by a double that dropped in front of left fielder Jordan Cantalamessa. Pattee would then send a line-drive out to center that was misplayed by Lollio. He took a few steps in and could not recover as the ball went flying over his head to the wall.
“The toughest play for an outfielder is the ball hit right at you, and with this swirling wind, it was a difficult day for them,” Maloney said.
Minnesota went on to score seven in the inning, and Michigan could not recover. The Gophers coasted to an easy 9-3 win.