COLUMBUS — It’s been a tale of two seasons for Coley Crank — non-conference and conference. And luckily for the Wolverines, the Big Ten season is where the junior catcher has excelled.
While Crank is hitting just .220 in non-conference play, he’s .357 in Big Ten games and leads the team in average, homeruns, RBI, doubles and slugging percentage in those games. But the rest of the team has failed to match Crank’s production, and he’s often been the only run producer in the lineup.
The clean-up hitter continued to lead Michigan’s production this weekend. He batted .417 with four RBI and a homerun against Ohio State. The dinger came in the top of the ninth inning of Saturday’s first game, after Michigan had just broken the 3-3 tie. His two-run shot over the left-field wall gave the Wolverines what looked to be a safe 6-3 advantage.
“I was just trying to hit it hard, that’s all I can really do, and sometimes you get good results,” Crank said.
He also gave Michigan a lead in the third game with a single up the middle in the first inning to put the Wolverines on top, 1-0.
“He started off slow, but you knew he was going to come along,” freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill said. “He’s finally starting to see the ball, he’s made a couple of adjustments and it’s paid off. It’s nice hitting in front of him. You get on, you steal second and it’s an automatic RBI.”
Though Crank has been bounced around defensively, it hasn’t hampered his production at the plate. He has seen time at designated hitter, left field and catcher, but has retained his No. 4 spot in the order over the last few weeks.
“I think Coley’s just a really good hitter — he always has been,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “And he was in a long funk — 20 games. To his credit, he stayed the course, and he’s really picked it up and has been the hitter we thought he’d be.”
BIONDI CAUGHT STREAKING: Sophomore center fielder Patrick Biondi carried the team’s second-longest hitting streak into the second game of Saturday’s double header, but it ended there. After 13 straight games with a hit, Biondi went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the 4-3 loss. O’Neill has the season’s longest hit streak with 19 games to start the season.
But though Biondi didn’t get a hit in the third game of the series, he contributed to the first of Michigan’s runs. He walked to lead off the game, stole second and then scored on Crank’s two-out single.
In fact, in each game this series, Biondi reached base to lead off the game and scored to give the Wolverines a 1-0 advantage through a half-inning. On Friday, he singled to left center, advanced to third on an error off of redshirt sophomore Kevin Krantz’s ground ball to second base and scored on a wild pitch.
In Saturday’s first game, he doubled to right to start the game and took third while the right fielder fumbled for the ball. He then scored on Krantz’s RBI ground out.
“To put up the first run in all three games and to lose all three is mind-blowing,” fifth-year second baseman Anthony Toth said. “The team that scores first wins more than 60 percent of the time, and to go 0-3 on the weekend after scoring first in every game, I’m just speechless.”
PITCHING IN: After sophomore conference starter Kyle Clark broke his hand moving furniture last week, Michigan’s turbulent pitching situation turned even worse.
With Kolby Wood and Travis Smith already out for the season, Maloney has had to dig deep to find guys to run to the mound every weekend.
“The only thing you can do is go with who you have and just keep getting better,” Maloney said.
Junior Kevin Vangheluwe, who is normally a reliever, got the start in Saturday’s nightcap and threw a respectable five innings of two-run ball. But redshirt sophomore Bobby Brosnahan — who was supposed to be the ace at the start of the season — has been struggling mightily and with such a depleted staff, Maloney has no choice but to start him every weekend.
Junior Brandon Sinnery, who started the season in the bullpen, has emerged as the cornerstone of the staff.
A DIFFERENT FEELING: This weekend’s series marked a departure from any other type of atmosphere that Michigan has played in this year. Whereas home games at Ray Fisher Stadium have been marked by a quiet buzz and sparse attendance this year, Bill Davis Stadium was electric over the weekend.
The crowd was bigger, louder and harsher on Michigan’s players than in any other game this year. To add more fanfare to the matter, Ohio State basketball sensation Jared Sullinger threw out the first pitch at Friday’s game and a fireworks show was displayed following the Ohio State win.
“An Ohio State-Michigan game is going to be different than any game you play,” Toth said. “We knew that coming in. We talked on Thursday before we left and if you don’t feel a little something extra coming into this weekend, then something is wrong with you. And I don’t think any guy didn’t have that feeling. “