When Michigan starter Matt Collins exited yesterday’s game after spotting Central Michigan three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, it looked as though opening day at the Fish would be long and one-sided. Three hours later, this first-inning prophecy had proven true … sort of.
The ballgame, as the 15-6 final showed, was completely uneven, but not in the Chippewas’ favor.
After surrendering a 3-0 lead in the top half of the first inning, Michigan showed its resiliency by scorching Central Michigan for seven runs in the inning’s bottom half and never looked back.
“The kids really played hard and responded well after we started off (down) 3-0,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “These kids just never quit – they keep at it, and I’m real proud of them. They showed a lot of character in how they battled.”
The 10-run, 50-minute first inning truly decided the game’s outcome. Phil Tognetti relieved Collins for Michigan and immediately shut down the Chippewas. The Wolverines then came up to bat in the bottom of the inning facing a three-run deficit, but quickly shifted the momentum.
Like Collins, Central Michigan starter Jeff Opalewski was very ineffective. Unable to hit his spots, Opalewski gave up four walks and a hit to Michigan’s first five hitters. He hit the showers without recording a single out.
Nick Patterson entered the game with the bases loaded and walked senior Jordan Cantalamessa on four pitches. Still leading 3-2, Pattterson struck out sophomore Chris Burhans, but this success was short-lived. Michigan senior Nate Wright reached on an error, knotting the game at three and keeping the bases loaded. Michigan’s next hitter, freshman Jeff Kunkel, tattooed a Patterson fastball over Chippewa centerfielder Tommy Grubb for a three-run triple. Sophomore Nick Rudden delivered a perfect suicide squeeze to score Kunkel. Patterson eventually struck out Michael Sokol to end the inning, but Michigan had gained control of the game and led 7-3.
In the next five innings, Michigan cruised to a 14-3 lead. While the Michigan offense continued to tear apart Chippewa hurlers, Tognetti worked beautifully in long relief.
“Phil Tognetti did a wonderful job for us,” Maloney said. “We’ve been waiting for somebody to step up on the mound, and Phil gave us a huge lift.”
Tognetti (1-1) earned the win by shutting out Central Michigan in 5.1 innings of work, giving up just one hit and two walks. The sophomore enjoyed 15 runs of support from the Michigan offense.
“As a pitcher, I think I can speak for our staff that (run support) is really significant for us,” Tognetti said. “It makes our job a lot easier.”
A large portion of Michigan’s offensive outburst today came from Kunkel. Besides his first-inning triple, Kunkel had two singles and scored two runs. A backup at catcher to junior Jake Fox – who currently leads the Wolverines in homeruns (7), RBIs (23), and slugging percentage (.785), but took the day off – Kunkel made the most of his spot-start.
“Every so often I’m going to get a chance, and I’ve got to make the most of it,” Kunkel said.
With solid performances from both Tognetti and Kunkel, Michigan’s depth pleases Maloney.
“(Depth) is what you need to have if you’re going to be a successful ballclub,” Maloney said. “Guys need to fill in for others and make a contribution, and we got that today.”
Michigan’s victory over Central Michigan comes just three days after a 12-8 loss to the Chippewas in the Butler Classic.
“I’m proud of these guys for fighting back,” Maloney said. “Certainly Central played a good game the other day and deserved to win, and for our kids to respond back and convincingly win this game was a real positive.”