It took 22 innings for everything to fall into place, but the last five frames the Michigan baseball team played in the Quala-T Imprint Baylor Classic this weekend were worth the wait.
After dropping their first two contests 13-7 and 16-0 to Louisiana Tech and Baylor, respectively, the Michigan (4-6) scored eight runs over the last five innings of the third game. Senior pitcher Craig Murray fanned six batters in five shutout innings to help the Wolverines defeat a strong Pacific team, 13-9.
“Today was a huge victory for our team considering how bad the loss was (to Baylor) on Saturday,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “For the kids to rebound against a good Pacific team that was 11-6 and that beat some good teams really says a lot about our kids, especially being down 2-0 and 9-5, and finding a way to win through adversity was outstanding.”
With Michigan trailing 9-5 heading into the top of the fifth inning and a winless weekend in Waco, Texas looking like a reality, Maloney turned to his bullpen for an answer.
Murray’s response was loud and clear.
“When I came in I wasn’t nervous,” Murray said. “I was just trying to get the first out and getting guys out right away. I wasn’t really thinking about staying in the whole game. I was just trying to get one out at a time.”
Fifteen outs later, the Park Ridge, Ill. native had given up just three hits facing Pacific’s last 22 batters, and Michigan fed off of his play, chipping slowly away at the deficit. Two runs in the sixth and one run each in the seventh and eighth pulled the Wolverines even with the Tigers heading into the top of the ninth.
“Murray was huge,” junior shortstop Leif Mahler said. “All of our pitchers were giving up runs and were getting knocked around the park. To have somebody come in the game and step up was really big. It gave us a chance to finally win the game.”
And win the game is exactly what Murray did in the bottom of the ninth.
Pacific’s first batter in the bottom of the ninth, Bob Saunders, singled, but Murray struck out the next two and forced the Tigers’ last batter to pop-up to end the game.
“The ninth inning was a lot of fun because I had a lot of adrenaline going,” Murray said. “It was nice to have a comfortable lead. Because we were up by four, I was able to attack hitters with hard fastballs and hard sliders. That is what allowed me to get those punch-outs and the win.”
The game against Pacific started like the previous two ended – with Michigan trailing. The Tigers jumped to an early 2-0 lead after the first, but it didn’t take long for Michigan to respond and put five runs on the board in the top of the second. After fifth-year senior catcher Jeff Kunkel singled, sophomore leftfielder Derek VanBuskirk homered. Then with two outs, following Adam Abraham’s walk, the Wolverines had three consecutive singles to take a 5-2 lead.
Following Michigan’s top of the second spurt and Pacific’s one-run innings in the second and third, the Tigers added a five-run frame of their own in the fourth to take a 9-5 lead.
This just set up the emphatic ending.
Even though the Wolverines’ comeback against Pacific was impressive, to tenaciously return from a 16-0 shellacking at the hands of a hot Baylor team was more remarkable.
“Against a really good Baylor team, it just wasn’t our day,” Maloney said. “It was a tough one to swallow. I think it says a lot about our team that we were able to battle and still find a way to beat a good Pacific team. “