On Saturday night, a deflated Michigan baseball team headed back to its North Carolina hotel. It just couldn’t win.
In the first game of the day, when the Wolverines played horribly, of course, they lost, 12-3 to Georgia Southern. Later on, when they played well enough to win against East Carolina, they lost, 6-5.
“We felt terrible,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We’d lost two games and didn’t feel good because we expect to win every time we go out there.”
If it wasn’t for redshirt junior Chris Fetter’s mammoth pitching performance yesterday against Pittsburgh, which put the team at 1-2 on the weekend, the Michigan players would still be hanging their heads as they returned to Ann Arbor.
In the first game of the Clark-LeClair Tournament on Saturday, Georgia Southern (6-6) plowed over the Wolverines.
Michigan lost what Maloney calls the “freebie war,” which includes walks, hit batsmen, errors and passed balls.
The Wolverine pitchers hit four batters and allowed 10 earned runs, while the Eagles walked just two batters.
“When you play bad and look bad, no one feels good about it,” Maloney said. “We were embarrassed.”
That evening, Michigan (5-5) attempted to rebound against a talented East Carolina (8-4) squad. But unlike the Georgia Southern catastrophe, the Wolverines actually played well.
They held a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the seventh until East Carolina freshman Trent Whitehead blasted junior Zach Putnam’s pitch over the right field wall to tie the game, 5-5. Senior Michael Powers gave up a run in the eighth, letting East Carolina squeak by, 6-5.
“It came down to us needing to make one or two more plays or one or two more pitches,” Maloney said. “And that’s been the story of where we’re at at this point of the season.”
In every loss this year, Michigan has been plagued by poor pitching. This weekend was no different.
So as Michigan headed to their hotel in Greenville, N.C., it had little positive to dwell on.
But Fetter turned everything around as he stepped onto the mound on Sunday morning when Michigan closed out the tournament with a win over Pittsburgh (3-6).
Fetter led the Wolverines to a 7-0 victory, throwing 11 strikeouts and allowing just one hit in seven innings.
“He was simply outstanding,” Maloney said. “If we get a few more efforts like that, our confidence will start to grow again.”
Michigan started the season with three wins against Villanova and a tie against the New York Mets, but has lost five of its last seven.
“We went from feeling like we truly were one of the top teams to now feeling a little insecure,” Maloney said. “When you don’t win and play well, that’s what happens. But it’s still the same team. We just got to get back to knowing what we’re capable of, and we showed signs (Sunday).”
Despite the Wolverines’ play in the first day of the tournament, Fetter still had confidence against Pitt. He started his outing aggressively, locating his pitches and throwing fastballs early in the count, which helped him get ahead of the Panther batters.
Although his fellow pitchers have struggled recently, Fetter said he still believes in their talent.
“These guys wouldn’t be at this university if they weren’t good pitchers,” Fetter said. “They just have to trust in their abilities.”
Last season, Michigan also had a shaky start but was able to rebound to become the Big Ten regular season champion. The 2006-07 season began 6-6 before the home opener, including two losses to East Carolina.
“Last year, we played well at the beginning of the year, we just caught a couple bad breaks,” Fetter said. “This year, we sometimes go into games thinking that we can win, instead of going in and trying to prove something. We can’t think that we will just walk in with Michigan on our chest and think that teams will roll over for us.”