CHAMPAIGN – One Michigan batter after another stepped to the plate in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Illinois, and one batter after another recorded a hit.

By the time the onslaught was complete, all 11 Michigan batters had earned a hit in the 14-5 rout, part of a four-game sweep at Illinois Field.

“Hitting’s contagious,” junior Zach Putnam said. “The guy in front of you hits it hard, then the next guy, and the next guy. It has been happening all weekend.”

Michigan (11-1 Big Ten, 22-8 Overall) recorded 49 hits and a staggering 44 runs over the weekend.

The Wolverines, who scored just 11 runs in last weekend’s series at Penn State, welcomed the offensive production.

“Coming into this season, we felt that we would be one of the better hitting teams in the country,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “And we hadn’t proved that yet. “Fortunately for us now, over the last four ballgames, we’ve really hit the ball well.”

Seven different Wolverines belted nine home runs off the Illini pitching staff, including Putnam, who hit three and had eight RBI during the series.

In Saturday’s first game, Putnam drove in a career-high six runs.

But it wasn’t just the offense that sparked Michigan. Despite the frigid temperatures, junior Chris Fetter and freshman Travis Smith had solid performances on the mound, allowing just five runs in 13 combined innings of play.

“It was colder than cold,” Maloney said. “This is survival mode. It’s hard to pitch. It’s hard to play.”

In Sunday’s game, Smith held Illinois (6-6, 18-12) scoreless until the fifth inning, when he walked crafty centerfielder Kyle Hudson with the bases loaded. The righty threw a first-pitch strike to the first 11 batters he faced.

Michigan’s seven-run lead was too great for the Fighting Illini to overcome. All weekend, the Wolverines took the lead early and never looked back.

“It’s hard to lose when your team puts up that many runs,” Putnam said.

Michigan has struggled so far to patch together a solid hitting and pitching performance. In recent series against Iowa and Penn State, the Wolverines won games on the backs of their pitching staff. But before Big Ten play, the pitchers struggled when the batters piled up hits.

“We were pretty close to being pretty good without hitting full stride,” Maloney said. “We just felt like if we kept playing, sooner or later, it’d get going.”

The Wolverines hit full stride at the right time and now sit atop the Big Ten standings. Despite the weekend sweep, Maloney knows it won’t be easy to win a third-straight Big Ten title.

“Each of the last two years we’ve won the Big Ten, we won it on the last weekend,” Maloney said. “It wasn’t like we had it running away. We’re going to have competition. It’s going to be a dogfight. But we’re playing good baseball, and that’s all you can ask.”

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