Sunday, May 28, 2006

Big Ten Tournament: Day 5

As you probably know by now, # 23 Michigan won the Big Ten Conference Tournament title over Minnesota, 9-4. The Wolverines captured both the regular season and tournament championships. The win gives Michigan an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament field. (More on that a bit later.)

Rich Maloney's squad posted single runs in the first three innings then, in the fourth, hung five more tallies on the Gophers and never looked back. CF Eric Rose was the offensive star collecting three hits and three RBI. Adam Abraham, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, also hit a solo homer.

Craig Murray got the start for Michigan and pitched 4.2 innings before giving way to Michael Powers (4-0) who completed the last 4.1 frames and merited the victory. The Gophers scored twice on each Michigan hurler, but only one of Murray's runs was earned.

Minnesota had plenty of chances, as they connected for eleven hits and received five free passes, but failed to keep pace with the Wolverines offense. Andy Hunter had three hits and Kyle Baran's two RBI paced the Gophers' attack.

What seperated #23 Michigan from the rest of the Big Ten this year was pitching. In particular, starting pitching carried the Wolverines to the Big Ten titles. Paul Hammond and Chris Fetter were named first team All-Big Ten. Zach Putnam garnered second team accolades.

While seniors pitchers like Hammond, Drew Taylor and Craig Murray were counted on to be leaders, it was the emergence of their freshman arms that proved to be the difference.

Fetter, Putnam, Adam Abraham and Michael Powers helped lift Michigan from title hopeful to conference champions. This tournament was evidence of that. Michigan won four times en route to the crown and each of the freshman--Fetter, Putnam, Abraham and Powers--earned a win.

In addition to Abraham being named the Outstanding Player, the Big Ten announced it's All-Tournament Team. Abraham was named to the team as a pitcher and a designated hitter.

Now, it's on to baseball's Big Dance for the Wolverines. Where Michigan plays will be announced tomorrow. Many of the pundits have suggested either a trip to Corvallis to take on Oregon State or, possibly, Lexington to play in Kentucky's regional. That's speculation, of course. Michigan could end up just about anywhere, but in looking over the regional hosts, UK is the closest site.

Michigan, who played the best defense in the Big Ten, did not look good defensively this week. That will need to improve, plus the Wolverines need to continue to get quality starting pitching in order to play well next weekend. I'm hopeful they can put together a strong showing for the conference and northern schools, in general.

Certainly, the strength of whatever regional they are assigned will be a major factor.
I'm sort of hoping that not playing at home, not having the burden of being the favorite, will help Michigan in the NCAA's. We will all have a better idea what is going on at this time Monday.

I'd love to hear Ohio State's name get called during the selection show tomorrow, but I just don't see them overcoming their low RPI number, just as Minnesota won't. In spite of their incredible second place finish in the regular season, Northwestern's overall record eliminated them from the NCAA's before the Big Ten season began.

Finally, here is a link to some photos from Saturday's action--Michigan vs. Ohio State and the Wolverines vs. Minnesota. They loaded in reverse order, but you still get the idea.