The Michigan baseball team knew its road series against No. 12 North Carolina would be a difficult one, but it was still confident in its ability to compete, even without star centerfielder Ryan LaMarre.
Three games later, the Wolverines were left staring at their first series sweep of the young season, wondering what went wrong.
The squad just came off of a big road victory at Florida Gulf Coast, but dropped all three games against the Tar Heels (10-1), including a 9-1 blowout in Sunday’s finale.
“Whenever we play, we expect to win,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We knew North Carolina had a great program and a great team, and they’ve obviously been playing real well with their record the way it is … (but) we had hoped that we could win the series. It’s very, very disappointing.”
A Michigan offense that showed signs of busting out against FGCU reverted to a lackluster form on Friday and Sunday which it had taken since LaMarre went out with an injury two weeks ago. In the eight games since he broke his thumb, the squad has scored just two runs or fewer on four different occasions.
Part of the reason for the struggles against the Tar Heels was the quality of pitching faced. Two All-American candidates — right-handers Matt Harvey and Colin Bates — took the mound for North Carolina and performed as advertised. Harvey went eight innings on Friday, allowing no runs and striking out 11. Bates followed Sunday with 5.2 innings of one-run baseball.
The Wolverines (4-7) just didn’t seem to have an answer.
“I thought we were putting some good swings on the ball … [but] unfortunately we were on the wrong side of both of those games,” senior catcher Chris Berset said. “We just got to keep fighting out there and keep scrapping.”
Maloney said the results of Friday’s 4-2 defeat and Saturday’s 7-6 loss could have been different with the preseason All-American in the lineup.
“There’s several games in this trip and this stretch where we certainly would’ve been in a much better position (with LaMarre), there’s no question,” Maloney said. “I’m sure our record would be two or three games different. But you can’t put it all on one guy. This is a team, and there are other guys that ought to be able to get it done.”
But so far, nobody has stepped into that role. The varied attempts to replace LaMarre’s production in the lineup continued to fizzle over the weekend. Redshirt freshman Tyler Mills and senior Mike Kittle both got starting nods against North Carolina, but they, along with redshirt sophomore Garrett Stephens and redshirt freshman Kevin Krantz, have failed to secure the vacant leftfield spot.
It’s an issue that needs to be resolved with the outfielder out of action for at least another three weeks.
“I think some guys are pressing, trying to do too much,” Maloney said. “With LaMarre out of the lineup, I think some other guys are trying to hit an eight-run home run in the first inning. They’re going to have to work their way through that to get better.”
Freshman centerfielder Patrick Biondi (who shifted from leftfield to take LaMarre’s defensive spot) continued to shine for Michigan. He came into the series hitting at a torrid .405 clip, and with a hit in each game against the Tar Heels (including a 4-for-4 performance Saturday), Biondi extended his hitting streak to eight games.
The squad showed grit in coming back from a 6-1 deficit Saturday by scoring five runs in the final three innings and nearly stealing a win from UNC’s grasp.
But despite their best efforts, the Wolverines were unable to pick up a single victory in Chapel Hill. The sweep left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players as they returned to Ann Arbor, hoping to regroup for next weekend when they compete in the Caravelle Resort Classic in South Carolina.
“We’re kind of tired of just taking moral victories out here,” Berset said. “We’re ready to win games. We’re going to have bad games, but we got to keep battling out there. We’ve got to learn from this and move on.”