After leaving 12 runners on base during the nightcap of yesterday’s doubleheader against Eastern Michigan, the Michigan baseball team finally managed to drive one home in the eighth inning. After they had the potential winning run just 90 feet away in the bottom of the seventh, Michigan shortstop Leif Mahler broke the curse of stranded runners in the eighth. With the bases loaded and one out, Mahler slapped a game-winning single through the left side of the infield, scoring first baseman Kyle Bohm and giving the Wolverines a 6-5 victory over the Eagles.

Michigan coach Rich Maloney was thrilled to see his team come from behind, something they have struggled to do all year long.

“The reality is that we’re finding a way to battle,” Maloney said. “We did that against Georgia earlier in the year, when we hadn’t had a lot of comebacks. But now we are. (The ability to come back) would be a great addition to this ball club with the other things we do well. To never say die and always battle back.”

Bohm’s run capped a five-run comeback for Michigan, which gave up three runs in the opening inning and trailed 5-1 after three innings. Eastern Michigan held on to a one-run lead into the bottom of the seventh and was just three outs from victory when Maloney pinch-hit senior Matt Butler for freshman Doug Pickens.

Butler was sitting out the doubleheader after suffering a leg injury while making a diving catch in last Sunday’s game against Michigan State. Both Maloney and Butler felt the extra day of rest before this weekend’s four-game series with Purdue was the best option. But when it came down to the wire, Maloney knew Butler was his best option.

Eagles’ pitcher Bob Lothian fell behind in the count and threw a 3-1 fastball to Butler. Butler — knowing he had a hitter’s count — swung for the fences and hit a solo shot beyond the right field wall, sending the game into extra innings.

“When you get ahead in the count and you get a fastball, you don’t want to be late,” Butler said. “So I just got the bat out and got an aggressive swing. Sure enough, the ball ended up going pretty far.”

Michigan had pulled within one in the fourth inning, when it scored three runs off Eagles’ starter Dan Puls. Third baseman Alex Martin and centerfielder Eric Rose walked before right fielder Brad Roblin singled to load the bases. Junior Chris Getz then drove Martin home with a sacrifice fly and, after Bohm walked, designated hitter Jeff Kunkel singled home two more runs to cut Eastern Michigan’s lead to 5-3.

After the Wolverines moved within striking distance, relief pitchers Drew Taylor and Derek Feldkamp kept the Eagles from extending their lead. Taylor allowed just two hits in three scoreless innings before Feldkamp earned the victory with three more shutout innings.

Starter Andrew Hess struggled, allowing five runs before being replaced without recording an out in the third inning. But Maloney was confident that he could turn to his bullpen to keep his team in the game.

“For a while, we weren’t getting that kind of (bullpen) help to keep us in games,” Maloney said. “But now, over the last three or four games, we have. And when you get that with a team that battles like we do, you’ve got a chance. And it’s good to see different guys stepping up, because we’re going to need a team effort if we want to get ourselves back into the thick of the playoff hunt.”

 

In the first game of the doubleheader, the Wolverines scored six runs in the first inning en route to a 9-1 victory. Starting pitcher Phil Tognetti allowed just one run on four hits in five innings of work and earned his first victory of the year,

Michigan is now preparing to face Purdue at the Fish this Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Both teams are fighting for a chance to finish in the top six of the Big Ten standings so they can compete in the conference tournament, which should make for a hard-fought series.

“These games are going to be playoff-like in intensity,” Butler said. “It’s getting to the part of the season where we’ve got to win these games down the stretch. We’re very confident, but, at the same time, we know they’re going to be ready for this.”

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