STATE COLLEGE – The Michigan baseball team was in trouble during the second leg of Saturday’s doubleheader with Penn State.
The Nittany Lions had already plated two runs when they loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning. A comfortable five-run lead was quickly shrinking and pitcher Mike Powers desperately needed his defense to bail him out.
And the defense was up for the challenge. Penn State outfielder Ryan Boonie grounded into a double play, and even though a third run scored, the Nittany Lion threat was reduced dramatically.
“The defense was outstanding,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “The defense played like we did last year at a very high level today, and I think when you play defense like that, you’ll win a lot of games.”
The Wolverines needed the boost of confidence following a three-error performance against Central Michigan last Wednesday. Michigan turned multiple double plays at critical times, including five on Saturday alone.
“We had a few double plays that got us out of jams,” senior Nate Recknagel said. “It’s just really key because the pitchers are throwing low strikes and giving us ground balls, giving us a chance to make good plays.”
One of the keys to the resurgent defense was Jason Christian’s return to the lineup at shortstop.
The junior was sidelined the past few weeks with an injury. He made several key plays throughout the series, being involved in three of Michigan’s five double plays on Saturday.
During the first game of the weekend, the defense and solid pitching from junior Chris Fetter helped Michigan win. Neither team mustered much run support in the Wolverines’ 1-0 win.
“I’d like to thank my defense behind me,” Fetter said. “I think we had three or four double-plays. Any time you can get those it really saves pitches and allows me to stay out there for another inning.”
Relapse in Relief: After freshman pitcher Travis Smith gave up three first inning runs during yesterday’s game, it looked like it’d be a long day for the Wolverines.
They had no idea.
Junior Ben Jenzen came in to relieve Smith, holding Penn State scoreless for two innings. But in the fifth, the Nittany Lions exploded, scoring three two-out runs off Jenzen before the right-hander was pulled.
His replacement, freshman Tyler Burgoon, couldn’t close out the inning, either, adding two more runs to Jenzen’s ERA in the inning. Burgoon walked three batters and one of them scored.
“Walks are killers,” Maloney said. “We talk about them all the time, we emphasize throwing strikes and the importance of that.”
Burgoon was pulled after allowing one hit and three walks.In all, Penn State scored six runs off four hits in the fifth.
Earning his share: The official score only gave Recknagel credit for one home run in the sixth inning, but he blasted more than one ball that distance.
The senior first baseman battled Penn State pitcher David Lutz during a Saturday at bat. After falling behind 0-2, Recknagel fought off a number of pitches. Two of his foul hits had home-run distance. Recknagel finally kept one in play, hitting a 330-foot blast to over the left-field fence, extending Michigan’s lead to 6-3.
“What an at-bat that was,” Maloney said. “That’s just hitting at its highest level right there.”