Big Ten baseball to play 44-game, conference-only schedule; UM starts ranked No. 20

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Michigan baseball, runner-up two seasons ago and ranked No. 1 for a portion of last season before it was cut short amid the pandemic, hasn't played a game since March 7.

There's finally light at the end of the tunnel.

The Big Ten Conference held a Zoom call Wednesday to discuss scheduling and is expected to announce soon that teams will play 44-game conference-only slates, starting March 5, according to Michigan coach Erik Bakich.

Erik Bakich

"We're all staring at our computers, waiting for the schedule," Bakich said with a laugh.

"As we've seen with basketball and football, it's not how many games you schedule, it's how many games you play. We hope to play the most games possible."

Big Ten softball is expected to play a similar, 44-game, conference-only schedule.

While Michigan won't have played in nearly a full calendar year, the Wolverines were ranked No. 20 in the nation by Baseball America on Friday.

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Michigan finished last season 8-7 and ranked No. 25, after rising to No. 1 following its opening weekend which saw the Wolverines go 3-0 with notable victories over No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 9 Arizona State.

Redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar is the returning ace and Michigan's likely next high draft pick. Sophomore right-hander Cam Weston, senior right-hander Blake Beers and sophomore Jacob Denner could round out the rotation, which has been the big strength of Michigan's rise to national prominence — culminating in pitching coach Chris Fetter leaving to become pitching coach of the Tigers.

Fetter was replaced by longtime minor-league pitching coach Steve Merriman, in his fourth stint at Michigan. Former Tiger Brandon Inge also has joined the staff as a volunteer assistant coach.

Inge will work extensively with the offense, which is deep, too, led by some graduate transfers, including shortstop Ben Sems from Kansas and catcher Griffin Mazur from UC-Irvine, among several returning starters, including fifth-year outfielder Christian Bullock, junior infielder Riley Bertram, sophomore infielders Ted Burton and Jimmy Obertop and sophomore infielder/outfielder Clark Elliott.

Bakich called this team the "deepest" he's had in terms of age and experience, which is a positive but also a negative given the condensed schedule. 

"Our biggest challenge will be finding enough opportunities to play for everyone," said Bakich, whose ballclub was supposed to play nonconference games in Florida, California, Hawaii and Texas. "That's gonna be tough."

Michigan State baseball was 9-6 in the 2020 shortened season.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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