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March 27, 2012 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-03-27

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 7

BASEBALL
'M' faces EMU, Oakland

Junior center fielder Patrick Biondi has hit .458 during his current six-game hitting streak.
Outfielders settingthe table

for heart of the M'

By STEVEN BRAID
Daily Sports Writer
Patrick Biondi's job is plain
and simple.
"As a lead-off guy, my job is
to just get on base and let guys
like (sophomore right-field-
er) Michael
(O'Neill), NOTEBOOK
(senior catch-
er) Coley (Crank), and (freshman
left-fielder) Will (Drake) - in
the four-hole today - drive me
in," the junior center fielder said
on Sunday, after Michigan's 11-3
victory against Indiana-Purdue
Fort Wayne.
Biondi, who went 7-for-11 in
last weekend's series against
IPFW, has been red-hot over the
past two weeks. During his cur-
rent six-game hitting streak, he
has hit .458.
But it's not his batting aver-
age that has Michigan baseball
coach Rich Maloney singing his
praise. It's his ability to get on
base.
"He's the key to the offense.
Last weekend, he had a .500 on-
base percentage, and that's what
I look at," Maloney said. "I don't
care about your (batting) aver-
age -t'm looking at how many
times you're getting on base.
That's his job, and over the last
week or so, he's been doing a
heck of a job."
Though he has the fourth-best
batting average among players
that have started at least half of
Michigan's games (.294), Biondi
sits atop the same group in on-
base percentage (.434) because
of his patience at the plate.
Over the past seven games, he
has walked eight times, and his
season-total 15 walks place him

inside the top 10 of the Big Ten.
Maloney knows that when
Biondi gets on base, he will dis-
rupt almost any opposing pitch-
er's rhythm with his speed - he
is currently tied for first in the
conference with 15 steals.
"When he's getting on base,
he's going to raise havoc with
the pitcher," Maloney said. "It
makes it harder for the pitcher
because he has to pitch out of
the stretch and he has to pay
a lot of attention to Patrick,
and that forces him to throw
some pitches he doesn't want to
throw. Over time, that will help
you win."
On Sunday, Biondi went 4-for-
5 and walked once. Maloney
credited him with Michigan's
offensive outbreak.
"That's what we need him to
do if we are going to have suc-
cess."
UP FOR GRABS: Even with an
encouraging weekend, Maloney
is still looking for answers.
When asked about which area
of improvement the Wolverines
need to be focusing on after
Michigan's three-game series
against IPFW, there was no hesi-
tation.
"I think our relief pitching,"
Maloney said. "We have to have
someone step up."
After two months, Maloney
has yet to find a consistent bull-
pen rotation. During the week-
end, 10 different relievers made
an appearance.
The relief corps didn't start
the series well, as it relinquished
three extra-inning runs during
Michigan's 8-6 loss on Friday.
But it bounced back, allowing
just two earned runs during
the rest of the series. Maloney

lineup
pointed to the performances of
his underclassman as positives.
"I thought (right-hander)
Mike Doloff - even though he
gave up some runs - looked
okay, and I'm encouraged by
that," Maloney said. "He's just a
freshman, and I've got to get him
out there."
Maloney, though, was not
fooled by the bullpen's impres-
sive stretch. He knows that
there are still holes that need to
be filled.
"Somebody has to rise up.
We'll keep throwing guys out
there and hope that someone
just takes the ball and says, 'I'm
the guy.'
"We need somebody on the
back-end of the game to be able
to shut them down. That's the
bottom line - it's the number-
one thing we have to correct."
PITCHER AT THE PLATE:
For anyone who's been tracking
the Wolverines this year, there
must have been some confusion
when sophomore Alex Lakatos
stepped to the plate as the desig-
nated hitter during Michigan's
home opener against IPFW.
Lakatos, who has pitched 12.1
innings out of the bullpen this
year, hadn't had an at-bat all
season until Friday. Unfazed, he
laced the third pitch he saw to
left-center field for a double. He
started on Saturday as well, fin-
ishing the series 1-for-5.
The sophomore is no strang-
er to the batters box. In 2011,
Lakatos split time between the
mound and the outfield. In 128
at-bats, he batted .258 with 7
doubles, 12 runs and 10 RBIs.
The right-hander also pitched
three innings in relief on Friday,
allowing just one earned run.

By LIZ NAGLE and set themselves apart," Merri-
Daily Sports Writer man said. "But nothing has been
etched in stone - those guys are
After only one day of rest fol- all competing for that opportu-.
lowing a series win over Indiana- nity."
Purdue Fort Wayne, the Michigan Once the Wolverines can weed
baseball team returns toaction in through the bullpen and find
two midweek games. It will host additional support, they might
Oakland today and travel to East- be able to pull themselves from
ern Michigan on Wednesday. the low end of the Big Ten pitch-
Though neither team appears ing ranks. Though Brosnahan and
threatening on paper, Michigan Ballantine post a 2.10 ERA and
coach Rich Maloney knows how 2.56 ERA, respectively, the rest of
unpredictable midweek games the staff weighs down Michigan's
can be. If Michigan can use its team ERA to 4.19.
momentum coming off a winning Freshman left-hander Trent
weekend, though, it may be able to Szkutnik is the probable starter
roll past the Golden Grizzlies and on Tuesday. And though his 9.00
Eagles without any major bumps ERA in 10 innings of work does
in the road. not appear ideal, his 14 recorded
The outcome depends on Mich- strikeouts looks promising.
igan's limited pitching staff, as the Freshman right-hander James
team's pitching leaders will be Bourque is likely to open for the
recovering before Big Ten play. In Wolverines at Eastern Michigan,
acombinedthree-gameeffortthis and his 3.00 ERA may increase
weekend, junior right-hander Ben their chances to notch a win. But
Ballantine, senior right-hander the concern is that Szkutnik and
Brandon Sinnery and redshirt Bourque have too little experi-
junior left-hander Bobby Brosna- ence on the mound, with just
han gave up just six hits and four a combined 19 innings in their
earned runs in 18 innings of work. careers. If the Wolverines find
So with the reliable hurlers out they can't rely on their young
of the question, who will take the pitching, they will have to focus
mound for the Wolverines? their attention on perfecting at-
"I haven't given it much bats. The outfielders and top of
thought," Maloney said on Sun- the batting order, junior Patrick
day. Biondi, freshman Will Drake and
But what Maloney does know is sophomore Michael O'Neill have
that the results will end in a toss executed strong performances
up - midweek games are difficult throughout the season.
to navigate and walks could be the "(Biondi) had seven positives
deciding factor. in yesterday's game," Maloney
Whoever it may be will have to said. "He had one RBI, one run
limit the "freebies." And though scored, two hits, two walks and
it may seem there's a number of a stolen base, so I counted seven
eligible candidates in the bullpen, positives."
the options are too few. Suddenly, in the final game
Pitching coach Steve Merri- against Indiana-Purdue Fort
man is looking for a handful of Wayne, Michigan witnessed
pitchers to step up to and "bridge increased hitting contributions.
the gap" between the definite Senior third baseman John
starters - Sinnery, Ballantine and Lorenz, sophomore first baseman
Brosnahan - and the of lack of Brett Winger and senior catcher
consistency in the bullpen. Coley Crank are all batting below
"Nobody has really emerged .300. But Sunday may have been a

breakthrough for all three. Wing-
er went 2-for-4 with two runs,
Lorenz added to a five-game hit-
ting streak and Crank recorded
a solo home run. It's hard to say
that a single game can indicate
what lies ahead. With the mixture
and wide range of hitting abili-
ties, Michigan sunk to eighth in
the conference with a less-than-
desirable .260-team batting aver-
age.
If the Wolverines manage to
feed off the successful series
against the Mastodons, the games
could just depend on what the
coaching staff has been monitor-
ing all season - confidence.
Regardless of the recent hit-
ting fluctuations, pitching staff
uncertainties and team morale,
Michigan might be able to notch
two straight wins and break past
.500 if Oakland (3-16) and East-
ern Michigan (8-14) play like their
records show. Both schools seem
to have problems of their own.
Aside from Golden Grizzlies'
three top weekendpitchers, their
bullpen is crowded with inexperi-
ence and their batters scored just
four runs in the three-game series
against Michigan State.
The Eagles will be post a tough-
er matchup for the Wolverines
as they, too, come off a two-win
weekend against Miami (Ohio).
Eastern's team statistics look very
similar, almost identical, to Mich-
igan's battingtallies.
So the pitching department
will be the determining factor
between a midweek win and loss.
But the Wolverines are likely to
catch a break with Oakland and
Eastern's probable starters post-
ing a 7.59 ERA and an 11.40 ERA,
respectively.
But Michigan just needs to
worry about itself.
"Somebody has to rise up,"
Maloney said. "I'm hoping some-
body just takes the bullet to say,
'I'm the guy.' We're waiting on
that."

Evans leading softball charge

By DANIEL FELDMAN
Daily Sports Writer
In Michigan's last tournament
before the team started home
games, the Wolverines managed
to score justtwo
tune in three NOTEBOOK
games.
A main reason for this was the
team's "lack of quality at-bats."
Since returning home, the Wol-
verines have bucked that trend
and witnessed an offensive reviv-
al.
Through the first four games of
a five-game home stand, Michigan
has won three of four games by
mercy rule, including both ends of
Saturday's doubleheader against
Penn State as well as its season
opener against Eastern Michigan.
The sudden offensive explosion
for the Wolverines can be credited
to the senior center fielder and
leadoff hitter Bree Evans.
Evans, who hit .500 in the
weekend's series, went three-for-
three in Saturday's first game and
scored three of Michigan's 11 runs,
including the 10th run via senior
first baseman Amanda Chidester's
game-ending two-run home run.
Being the leadoff hitter, it is
Evans' responsibility to try to
expose the opposing pitcher's vul-
nerabilities to the rest of the team.
"I want to try to get as many
pitches as I can so the batters can
see as many pitches before they're
at bat," Evans said.
Since the role of the leadoff hit-
ter is to "set the table" for the mid-
dle of the lineup, it's important for
Evans to get on base by any means
possible.

"The whole time, I'm trying
to get (the ball) on the ground,"
Evans said.
Due to Evans' speed, hitting
the ball on the ground and finding
open holes in the infield is essen-
tial for her success. As a result,
28 of her 30 hits this season have
been singles.
THREE'S COMPANY: After
picking up all three wins for the
Michigan softball team against
Penn State over the weekend,
freshman pitcher Haylie Wagner
was awarded with Big Ten Pitcher
of the Week. This marks the third
time that Wagner has won the
award this season.
With the three weekend victo-
ries, Wagner improved to 15-4.
Wagner went the distance in
both of her starts, highlighted by
her fourth shutout on Sunday. In
that game, Wagner struck out five
while only giving up two hits.
"Haylie is our best pitcher," said
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins.
"I thought she was our best
option."
Wagner's other win was in the
second game of Saturday's dou-
bleheader, when she came in as a
reliever for fellow freshman Sara
Driesenga. Wagner went on to
pitch the last three innings of the
game, tallying two strikeouts.
Having the ability "to stay in
(her) moment" was something
that Hutchins believed was criti-
cal for the Wolverines this week-
end, and Wagner had that.
Unlike the Nittany Lions'
pitching, which allowed 20 walks
over the weekend series, Wagner
walkedorily three. In addition, she
managed to surrender just six hits

to Penn State, while registering
ten strikeouts.
After holding Penn State to a
.118 average, Wagner was able to
finish the week with a1.40 ERA.
HOW SWEET IT IS: Freshman
catcher Lauren Sweet was anoth-
er award winner for Michigan this
week. For the first time, she was
named the Big Ten Freshman of
the Week.
While catching in all three
weekends games, Sweet hit .833,
going five-for-six at the plate and
adding a home run. Four of those
hits came on Saturday, as Sweet
went two-for-two in each game.
Because of her patience at the
plate, Sweet was able to draw four
walks at the plate in the three-
game set.
In addition, Sweet drove in
three runs and scored three runs
for the Wolverines.
As a result of this performance,
Sweet posted a 2.400 OPS during
the series against Penn State.
Perhaps hidden in Sweet's per-
formance from the weekend was
that it came from the eighth spot
in the batting order.
"The bottom of the order is as
important as the top of the order,"
Hutchins said.
Accordingto Hutchins, if Sweet
can continue this level of produc-
tion, Michigan can be a "danger-
ous team."
Plus, Sweet has something that
doesn't show up in the box score -
toughness.
After getting hit by a pitch in
the bottom of the sixth, Sweet
remained in the game and caught
the final inning even though she
appeared tobe in pain.

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