Big Ten tourney is 'new race' for UM baseball
Erik Bakich will be perfectly blunt.
The last two weeks of the regular season were absolutely brutal.
"I don't think the last couple weeks have been fun for anybody," Michigan's fourth-year baseball coach said Tuesday.
"It'll be good just to see smiles on our faces again."
After all, the season starts anew Wednesday, when Michigan (35-19) opens the Big Ten tournament against Ohio State (38-17-1) in Omaha, Nebraska.
It wasn't long ago that Michigan, after making the NCAA tournament last season, was ranked in Baseball America's top 25, no small feat for any Midwest school.
But the Wolverines limped to the finish line, losing seven of their last eight regular-season games, including a three-game sweep at Ohio State.
That stretch began with a loss to Central Michigan, against whom Matt Ramsay (.298, .405 on-base percentage) broke his left arm after being hit by a pitch. He hasn't played since, and is doubtful to return this season, even if coaches won't completely rule it out.
Then, on Thursday, during batting practice, Carmen Benedetti (.332, .472 OBP, and a go-to reliever with a 2.45 ERA), went diving for a ball, ran into a fence and suffered a concussion.
"Hell of a catch," Bakich quipped, "but the wrong time."
Benedetti didn't play in the weekend series against Illinois, which beat Michigan two out of three. He has been cleared to return.
The Wolverines' offense suffered greatly in their absence. In the five games before Ramsay's injury, Michigan averaged 13 runs; in the eight games since, less than four. Michigan's only win in the last eight was a 1-0 win over Illinois.
At least Benedetti will return to the No. 3 spot in the lineup, and freshman Ako Thomas, with his .388, has slid into the No. 2 hole.
"We're approaching it as we're starting a new race," Bakich said. "We stumbled down the stretch, but this is a new one.
"The last two weeks have no impact on what's going to happen, and I really like the guys' mentality right now. They've been here before. They know what to expect."
Michigan, a No. 5 seed, was a No. 3 last season when it won the tournament championship, earning the automatic NCAA tournament bid.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 4 Ohio State
When: Wednesday, 10 p.m.
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
TV: Big Ten Network
Records: Michigan 35-19, Ohio State 38-17-1
Probables: Michigan LHP Brett Adcock (7-4, 2.66) vs. Ohio State LHP Tanner Tully (7-3, 2.31)
At stake: On Thursday, winner faces Minnesota-Iowa winner at 10 p.m., loser faces Minnesota-Iowa loser at 2 p.m. The tournament is double-elimination.