On its way to Purdue, the Michigan baseball team’s bus will most likely pass through Jackson, home to the Michigan State Prison.
The trip into Indiana will also give the Wolverines a chance to hopefully leave their own prison: the state of Michigan.
Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 7-19 overall) is a mere 2-7 in games in its home state against Division-1 teams. Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Michigan State have taken turns knocking the Wolverines around in the Mitten State.
But with the state border behind them, Michigan will turn its focus to the Boilermakers (1-2, 18-10).
Despite losing seven of their last eight games, the Wolverines sit just one game out of first place in the Big Ten.
“You want to build momentum so you build confidence, so I certainly can’t say we’re going into (Purdue) with confidence,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “But at the same token, we’ll have the opportunity to compete in a game.”
In order to compete with Purdue, Michigan will need good pitching, specifically the ability to prevent giving up the big inning, something it hasn’t been able to do consistently.
“We’ve got to put a solid nine innings together, and what we do in each game, it seems, is we give up two big innings in each game — it’s almost like clockwork,” Maloney said. “Somehow, someway, we’ve got to get through it.”
Sophomore Kyle Clark will start Friday’s game. Despite a respectable 3.45 ERA, Clark is 1-3 on the year and hasn’t made it into the fifth inning in his last two starts. Redshirt sophomore Bobby Brosnahan will start Saturday. The lefty is 1-5 with a 6.63 ERA, but has shown promise lately, especially in last weekend’s 6.1 innings of one-run ball against Indiana. Sunday’s starter is undetermined.
The Boilermakers and Wolverines have shared just one common opponent thus far. Purdue clobbered UConn, 10-2, in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge, but two days later, it was the Huskies on the winning side of a blowout, as they beat Michigan, 16-9.
“Purdue’s always a scrappy team, and they’ve got a couple good pitchers, but they really scrappy and that’s the way they’ll play,” Maloney said. “They’ll bunt a lot, they’ve been running a lot, they just like being scrappy. They’ll have a couple good pitchers, without question, and they’re obviously playing with some confidence, so we’re going to have to play well to win.”
Some Wolverine hitters seem to be waking up out of their early-season slumps. Though the team is still hitting a dreadful .247, junior catcher Coley Crank — last year’s top team-leader in slugging percentage and homers — has finally started to look like himself.
Michigan also may have found its leftfielder in freshman Alex Lakatos, who’s hit 7-for-13 in his last four games.
While the Wolverines may be slumping currently, they can break out of it at any moment. And playing in a new state, Michigan will look for a series victory before they slip down in the conference standings.
“The great thing about baseball is if you play well — if we ever put it all together like we did against Indiana in game two, where we just played a solid game — then we’ll have a chance to win,” Maloney said. “And we need to do it, we need to do it now. In essence, the Big Ten games are the ones that are our last (attempt) to try to salvage our season.”