When the Michigan baseball team steps off the plane in St. Petersburg, Fla., some of the best competition in the country will be thrown its way.

In the third year of the Big Ten-Big East challenge, the Wolverines will be taking on No. 22 Louisville on Friday, No. 31 St. John’s on Saturday and No. 17 Connecticut on Sunday. All three made the regionals of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

“These are the best teams they’ve ever had in their school history,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said on Tuesday at Meet the Wolverines night. “Whatever happens, we’re going to learn from the experience and grow from it. But we’re excited to have the chance and try to knock these guys off.”

Michigan will start lefty redshirt sophomore Bobby Brosnahan, who has added a cutter to his arsenal, on opening day against Louisville. Perhaps the toughest out in the Cardinals’ lineup will be junior Ryan Wright, who batted cleanup last year. The infielder hit .366 with 16 home runs and 80 RBIs in 2010.

“I think my teammates have confidence in me and I have confidence in myself,” Brosnahan said about the pressure of getting the Wolverines off to a strong start. “It’s opening day, but it’s just another game.”

St. John’s returns seven players from last year’s team. The Red Storm missed out on reaching the NCAA Super Regionals by three runs. All-American sophomore outfielder Jeremy Baltz, who hit .396 with 24 home runs and 96 RBIs, could provide the most trouble for Michigan’s sophomore right hander Ben Ballantine, who takes the mound on Saturday.

And Connecticut’s speed could cause problems for Michigan and junior right hander Brandon Sinnery on Sunday. The Huskies return most of their lineup which was second in the nation last year with 171 stolen bases and an 84-percent success rate.

“When we go out we expect to win,” sophomore centerfielder Pat Biondi said. “We play three really good teams, but we feel like we’re just as good as they are.”

Rather than sulk about its tough draw in the Challenge, the Wolverines are pleased with the chance to prove themselves against quality teams.

“I look at it as a great opportunity,” Maloney said. “Is it going to be challenging? Yes. It’s going to (let us) see where we’re at.”

Though Michigan is set at most positions, there will be some competition over playing time — specifically at catcher and closer. The catching position will be a three-way battle between redshirt freshmen Zach Johnson and John DiLaura and freshman Cole Martin. Maloney said having a solid defensive catcher will be key to shoring up a strong defense across the diamond.

At closer, Sinnery, Ballantine, redshirt sophomore Tyler Mills and sophomore Kyle Clark could all get chances to finish off games.

“We’ve got several options but it’s all based upon who performs,” Maloney said. “Some of the early season is going to be based upon giving guys opportunities and seeing how they perform.”

If Michigan is able to take at least two of the three games, it could vault itself into the rankings. But if they get swept, the Wolverines know another challenge will present itself.

“We could very well go out and play very good baseball our first three games, and we could lose all three,” fifth-year senior second baseman and co-captain Anthony Toth said. “Then it becomes a question, ‘How are we going to bounce back the next weekend?’ We are not in any way intimidated by any teams.”

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