Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Michigan 3 Notre Dame 1

Behind a strong pitching performance from freshman Michael Powers and the bat of Nate Recknagel, Michigan beat #21 Notre Dame, 3-1. Michigan scored twice in the first behind a RBI double from Recknagel and a single by Doug Pickens that plated the Michigan firstbaseman. ND starter Wade Korpi settled down after that and neither team mustered much offense again until the sixth inning.

Recknagel would extend Michigan's lead to 3-0 by opening the sixth with long homerun. Korpi would finish out the inning, but pitch no more. The lefthander allowed all three Michigan runs, but walked only one Wolverine batter and struck out seven.

Notre Dame answered with it's first tally in the top of the seventh. Craig Cooper tripled down the rightfield line and scored on freshman DH Jeremy Barnes single. However, in spite of having a single, double and triple in the 7th, the Irish could not scratch out another run. The seventh was Powers' last inning of work. Unofficially, he gave up five hits, a walk and one earned run. The right hander also fanned four and picked an Irish baserunner off first.

Adam Abraham worked a flawless eighth getting all three ND hitters to fly out to CF Eric Rose. Ben Jenzen came on in the ninth and after recording an out allowed a walk and a single, but got the final two hitters to fly out to Rose.

Michigan catcher Jeff Kunkel displayed why he's amongst the Johnny Bench Award semi-finalists. He threw out a runner attempting to steal in the first and caught Barnes straying too far from firstbase in the seventh with a quick throw helping to slow down a would-be Irish rally. It was a fine defensive performance for the senior backstop.

In terms of RPI value, this was a rather significant victory for Michigan. If they are going to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, and they are clearly on the bubble right now, this game may be the reason they get in the field. The Irish were ranked higher than Michigan and inside the top 50. It might not get them in the tournament, but it has to help quite a bit.

As for the RPI, Notre Dame coach Paul Mainieri voiced his displeasure over it during the game. (It was literally during the contest as Comcast did in-game interviews with both coaches--twice!!--and talked with a player from each side, as well.) Both the ND skipper and Geoff Zahn, who worked the game for Comcast Local and is a former Michigan head coach, feel the RPI punishes the snowbelt schools for all the usual reasons--inability to improve their RPI marks during the conference schedule as no quality opponents will travel north, the teams develop slower due to the weather restraints on practice, etc......

Mainieri believes that both his program and Rich Maloney's are much better than their RPI indicates. I don't necessarily disagree. However, losing two of three to last place Seton Hall as the Irish did last weekend and dropping midweek games to MAC schools, as Michigan did over the last month, provides critics plenty of ammunition to the contrary.

Overall, it was an entertaining game to watch. Comcast's production crew did a solid job, so a tip of the cap to them.

The last I saw, Northwestern was beating Illinois State, 9-5, in the fifth inning. I'm hoping to review that game and probably take my weekly look at OPS numbers tomorrow. I couldn't get to the on base plus slugging percentage figures tonight due to the ND/Michigan game.