This weekend’s three-game series against Penn State sums up the Michigan baseball team’s season pretty well — full of dramatic, and often unexpected, ups and downs.
On Friday, Michigan won, 7-3. But Saturday’s game took a 180-degree turn, and the Wolverines suffered their greatest loss of the season, 14-1. The team came close to winning the series on Sunday, but they couldn’t quite “get over the top,” as Michigan coach Rich Maloney said, and the Wolverines lost again, 6-4.
A huge setback for Michgan right now is the amount of players who are out with injuries. Freshman left fielder Will Drake, sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill and redshirt senior right-hander Travis Smith have been forced onto the bench recently because of various hand-and-foot-related injuries. Junior shortstop Derek Dennis and redshirt senior right-hander Kolby Wood are also out of the lineup and have only made a few appearances this season.
Redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan is another player who’s been hurting. Though he does not have a serious or identifiable injury, he hasn’t had the arm strength he displayed in the start of the season.
“He just needs to get (his arm) stronger so it feels better for him when he competes,” Maloney said. “Hopefully now that he’s had some time off he’ll be coming back pretty soon.”
The lack of healthy starters has put a lot of pressure on the remaining players to perform well in their stead.
Senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery is one of the starting pitchers who has played exceptionally well in the past few weeks. He had one of his best performances of the season in last week’s series against Michigan State, in which he left the field with a standing ovation, having allowed no runs in 8.1 innings of work.
On Friday, Sinnery pitched a complete game for the second time this season. He allowed 10 hits but just two earned runs and an unearned run. He struck out six Penn State hitters and improved his record to 3-3.
“Sinnery was outstanding,” Maloney said.
The fifth inning locked in the win for Michigan. The Wolverines were down by one, but senior catcher Coley Crank and sophomore first baseman Brett Winger each got an RBI and redshirt junior left fielder Kevin Krantz got two.
The Nittany Lions scored once more in the fifth, but that was their last run. Michigan scored twice more, adding runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
Friday was the highlight of the Wolverines’ weekend. Saturday, on the other hand, was the low point of the weekend, if not of their entire season.
Because so many players are injured, many of the younger Wolverines are having to step up. That seemed to be part of the problem on Saturday.
“Some of these guys are thrust into the lineup, and in some cases we’re seeing some good results, and in other cases we’re not seeing such good results,” Maloney said.
Five pitchers split the time on the mound, but the decision in the 14-1 loss was given to freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik, who pitched two innings and gave up five hits and six earned runs.
“This outing, (Szkutnik) struggled,” Maloney said. “But he’s a freshman and he’s got good stuff. We believe in him.”
Freshman right-hander James Bourque relieved Szkutnik on the mound. His performance was not much better, though, and he allowed three runs in 2.1 innings.
Freshman right-hander Mike Dolloff finished off the game for Michigan. Once again, one of the freshmen pitchers couldn’t pick the team up. Dolloff allowed four runs in his inning of work.
Junior center fielder Patrick Biondi knocked in the only Michigan run of the game on a base hit to right field.
“Unfortunately, because of the situation that we’re in with all these different people being out, we have to throw some people in earlier than we would have liked to,” Maloney said. “But we are very confident, and we think (that) over time it will pay off in the big scheme of things. There’s going to be some ups and downs when you’re dealing with that many inexperienced players.”
Junior right-hander Ben Ballantine thinks all of the freshmen are a great addition to the team, and he’s glad that the younger players are getting more opportunities now.
“We love having the younger guys with us,” Ballantine said. “They’re real supportive. We have all of these freshmen in the dugout with us, and they’re the loudest ones, cheering us on.”
Ballantine played the first six innings in Sunday’s game and allowed only one earned run and one unearned run.
By the beginning of the seventh inning, Penn State was up, 2-0. By the end of the inning, Penn State was still up but the score had changed, 5-3.
Both teams scored one more run in the eighth, but Michigan couldn’t catch up in the top of the ninth.
“We came down here on a mission to get the job done, and we were close to doing that, but we just couldn’t get over the top,” Maloney said.
Maloney expects that none of the injured players will be healthy enough to play in this weekend’s series against Northwestern.
“Hopefully we’ll get some of these guys back, but in the meantime we’ve got to claw our way to victory and try to win a couple series this year just by battling,” Maloney said.