SOUTH BEND — The St. Joseph High School baseball team cheered excitedly in the stands at Frank Eck Stadium Wednesday. They made the 36.9-mile trip to see their former teammate, freshman first baseman Cam Luther, as his Wolverines battled at Notre Dame.
While the team didn’t get to see the player it came to watch (Luther didn’t make the trip from Ann Arbor), what it did enjoy was a dominating performance by the road team.
Michigan (6-3 Big Ten, 24-12 overall) trounced the Fighting Irish 13-1 in the second game of the home-and-home midweek series, sweeping Notre Dame after its 3-2 win Tuesday at home.
Notre Dame starter Steve Sabatino began the game ominously for the Wolverines, striking out the first two batters he faced. But Michigan’s bats weren’t silenced for long, as the team quickly began a two-out rally.
Junior outfielder Ryan LaMarre started the run by reaching on an error, and the next four batters all recorded hits, highlighted by senior first baseman Mike Dufek’s towering two-RBI triple to center. By the time the inning was over, Michigan held a 4-0 lead it wouldn’t come close to relinquishing.
The timely hitting was apparent in Tuesday’s win as well, with two of the Wolverines’ three runs coming with two outs already recorded.
“Clutch hitting will win a lot of games,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “It’s most important to get the timely hitting and we were able to do that. (The two-out rally) gave us great momentum for the game, and we were able to carry it through.”
The story of Tuesday’s hard-fought victory was Michigan’s pitching, which stifled the bats of Notre Dame (5-7 Big East, 15-21 overall). Senior left-hander Eric Katzman made his second straight midweek start and once again pitched solidly, allowing just one run and four hits over five innings to pick up his third victory of the year.
The bullpen was just as strong, combining to allow one run over the remaining four innings and picking up the slack on a night when the offense struggled. That pitching momentum carried into Wednesday with the performance of starting pitcher Matt Miller.
The junior right-hander from Zionsville, Indiana had struggled immensely this year, posting a 7.01 ERA going into Wednesday despite being counted on to be the team’s No. 2 starter. But pitching in front of a contingent of family and friends in his home state seemed to galvanize Miller (1-2, 5.98), who recorded his first victory of 2010.
Miller, a self-professed Notre Dame football fan growing up, shut out the Fighting Irish over his six innings of two-hit baseball. He even managed to end the consecutive games reaching base streak of Notre Dame’s Ryan Connolly, whose string of 47 in a row was second in the NCAA.
Miller’s main problem in his earlier struggles had been his control, but Notre Dame would never have guessed that.
“Me and (senior catcher Chris) Berset were working really well together,” Miller said. “We were on the same page the entire game, working a lot with fastballs in, trying to make it move versus a lot of teams (that) take a big breaking ball emphasis. It was good to come out and use the fastball primarily.”
Miller’s performance meant that the offense could play without pressure, and it certainly seemed relaxed throughout the game. After another two-out rally yielded a fifth run in the second inning, Michigan’s bats remained dormant for the next three frames.
But the Wolverines tacked on two more in the sixth inning and opened the floodgates with six runs in the seventh to take a 13-0 lead. At that point, any doubts of a Michigan win and sweep over the Irish were definitively erased.
“Just taking care of the midweek games as a team is just big for us right now,” Miller said. “We didn’t really do that last year, and it definitely gives us some momentum going into the weekend series. It’s big for the team right now.”
Notes: Berset’s single to left in the first inning stretched his hitting streak to a team and career-best 21 games … Freshman shortstop Derek Dennis was given the night off to rest. Redshirt junior Anthony Toth shifted to short and senior Mike Kittle played at second. The defense didn’t miss a beat in Dennis’ absence, turning three inning-ending double plays … Redshirt senior Nick Urban continued to sit as a precaution after being hit in the head by a pitch last Sunday at Illinois. Maloney said Urban wants to play this weekend against Iowa, but hasn’t practiced and needs to Thursday in order to play.