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May 17, 2018 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily

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10

Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
SPORTS

Defense critical
in success for ‘M’

With one out and a runner on sec-
ond in the 10th inning Sunday after-
noon, junior center fielder Jonathan
Engelmann gathered a flyball on one
hop off the wall and fired a perfect
throw into relay man Jack Blomgren
who then delivered a strike to cut
down the potential go-ahead run at
the plate.
Blomgren exhibited elite range
at shortstop on the next ball in play,
sliding to his right to keep a ball in
the infield and prevent the runner
scoring from second.
An inning later, Michigan had yet
another defense-fueled win.
Defense, as much as anything,
has been the driving factor in the
Wolverines’ miraculous turnaround
that has seen them go 28-5 since a
4-11 start. In its 16 losses, Michigan
has committed 2.3 errors per game,
compared to 1.1 in wins.
“We’ve
always
talked
about
building a program off pitching and
defense,” said Wolverines coach
Erik Bakich. “That’s always been our
calling card.”
This weekend, the gap between
winning and losing defense was
clearer than ever. On Friday, four
errors — all in the Michigan infield
— led to seven unearned runs and a
lopsided 10-3 defeat.
“With (sophomore left-hander)
Tommy (Henry)’s five-spot in the
second, we had a double play ball and
we didn’t even get an out,” Bakich
said. “We dropped it and if we turn
a double play there, maybe Tommy’s
whole entire outing is different.
“I think it was a simple lack of
execution and we just need to be bet-
ter tomorrow.”
They were— but only slightly,
with three errors including two
committed by the starting pitcher,
freshman left-hander Ben Dragani,
as they fell 10-4.
Sunday was an entirely different
story, however, as web gem defense
throughout the game helped the
Wolverines jump out to a 4-2 lead.
Sophomore right fielder Christian
Bullock saved extra bases in the sec-
ond with a leaping grab and made
a sliding catch on a sinking liner in
the sixth. In the seventh, junior sec-
ond baseman Ako Thomas made a
spinning play to his left and fielded

an awkward chopper to make two
tough outs. Blomgren started the
ninth with a highlight reel bare-
handed throw across the diamond.
“Pitching and defense were the
critical factors today,” Bakich said.
“Defense especially.”
But for all of the Wolverines’
defensive excellence through eight
innings, their flaws shone through
in a nearly catastrophic ninth, in
which Illinois plated two runs to
send the game to extra innings. The
game-tying play came via a trio of
defensive mistakes, continuing an
all-too-familiar
commonality
in
Michigan’s runs allowed.
A wild pitch with runners on first
and second moved the tying run into
scoring position. Later during that
at-bat, junior left-hander William
Tribucher looked to have induced
a game-ending groundout to first
but failed to cover the base, allow-
ing a run to score from third. The
damage could have ended there,
but freshman first baseman Jesse
Franklin did not see left fielder
Doran Turchin charging home from
second until the scoreboard at Ray
Fisher Stadium read 4-4.
“After playing defense so well the
entire game, we had some miscues
there in the ninth,” Bakich said.
“Not covering first, mental mistake,
allowing a guy to score from second
on an infield hit.
“You can’t expect to beat very
good teams and make those mis-
takes, especially late, so it cost us.”
The Wolverines have gone just
2-4 in their two biggest series of Big
Ten play— series losses to Illinois
and Iowa. In those four losses they
have committed 10 errors, leading to
the multiple, avoidable losses.
Next weekend’s matchup against
Purdue in West Lafayette, though,
provides Michigan an opportunity
for redemption. The third-place
Boilermakers pose a formidable test,
one the Wolverines likely need to ace
to have a chance at their first Big Ten
title in a decade.
“There’s no two ways around it.
The defense we played today is the
defense we’re gonna need to play if
we’re gonna be a championship or a
postseason team,” Bakich said.
“Because the defense we played
the first two days is not gonna be
conducive to playing deep into
June.”

A Crisis of Confidence

BASEBALL

MADISON — It was a long trek
back to the bus.
The Michigan softball team
was tired and defeated, and it was
hard to blame the players. After
all, it was 1 AM — a result of hours
of rain delays that pushed the
Wolverines’ game
back until after 10
PM —and every-
thing
had
gone
wrong.
Having
swept the season
series — including
a run-rule victory
in East Lansing —
top-seed
Michi-
gan was heavily
favored over No.
8 seed Michigan
State in the Big Ten Tournament
quarterfinals. But instead, it lost
7-0 in a game even more one-sid-
ed than the score indicates.
And though the Wolverines’
season isn’t over, the loss felt
foreboding. After all, an early
conference
tournament
exit
never bodes well for a team’s
NCAA Tournament prospects.
Michigan
coach
Carol
Hutchins stood outside, giving
an interview.
“I’m sorry you came all the way
out here to see that,” she said.
Those words said it all.
Behind her, the players filed
onto the bus. Their faces were
streaked with water — from the
rain or from tears, it was impos-
sible to tell. They didn’t talk to
each other. They were alone with

their thoughts, and all that was
left to do was load their suitcas-
es, hop on the bus and wonder,
“What happened?”
The truth was, everything
happened. It was a bad game at
an inopportune time, yes. But
more than that, it was a deterio-
ration of confidence that failed
the Wolverines — the very con-
fidence that made
them the team to
beat in the first
place.
It started with
freshman
left-
hander
Meghan
Beaubien.
Ear-
lier in the season,
when nothing else
was working, she
put Michigan on
her back and kept
the Wolverines in games they had
no business being in. More than
that, her tenacity never wavered
— earning her the nickname
“Beau-bot.” It didn’t matter how
big the jam, she could get out of it.
Until Friday.
Even
before
the
Spartans
struck first — on a two-run sin-
gle by Lea Foerster — Beaubien
pitched tentatively. She nibbled
the zone, and Michigan State
wouldn’t bite. And after the
Spartans got on the board, it all
spiraled downward. When she
got into another jam in the top
of the fifth, the “Beau-bot” was
nowhere to be seen. Instead, she
allowed two runs to score before
Hutchins took mercy and pulled
her with the bases loaded and
still no one out.

It wasn’t just Beaubien. All
pitchers have off-days, and this
team is built to pick her up when
she needed it. But at the plate
things weren’t any better. The
lineup at its best is a three-head-
ed monster: contact at the top,
power in the middle and speed at
the bottom.
Against
Michigan
State,
though, the Wolverines struck
out 10 times. They had just three
hits, all singles. The more dire
the situation grew, the more
Michigan pressed at the plate.
The grinding at-bats from earlier
in the season were gone. Instead,
with two strikes came a sense of
resignation.
“We talk a lot about trust (but)
you’ve gotta really believe it,”
Hutchins said. “And we have not
shown that we do.”
In their finest moments, the
Wolverines are full of confidence
and swagger, always laughing
and joking and cheering.
On Friday, they were quiet.
Michigan always expected a
Big Ten Tournament champion-
ship. During the regular season,
the Wolverines never doubted
that they were capable.
But the postseason is a whole
different battle, and Michigan’s
confidence evaporated when it
was most vital.
And as the Wolverines retreat-
ed to the bus after the game, the
only thing left to do was pick up
the pieces.
Gerson can be reached at
amgerson@umich.edu or on Twit-
ter @cyan_sunshine.

FILE PHOTO / DAILY
The Michigan softball team fell to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament and lost an asset along the way - its confdence

THEO MACKIE
Daily Sports Writer

It was a bad
game at an
inopportune
time

ARIA GERSON
Daily Sports Writer

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