The Michigan baseball team played in front of only 571 fans on Easter Sunday (but the Wolverines aren't complaining after drawing 3,500 the first two days), and whether they knew it at the time or not, those fans witnessed history. With a 5-4 victory over Ohio State, U-M posted a series sweep over the Buckeyes for the first time since 1987. The win was Michigan's sixth straight in Big Ten play, and seventh in its last eight, leaving the Maize and Blue only a game out of first place in the league race at 8-4.
"We're a player now," head coach Rich Maloney said. "We have five weeks of conference games remaining, we're in second place, but if we continue to play like we have been, continue to improve, we won't be in second for much longer."
While The Big House entertained more fans Saturday, Ray Fisher Stadium was the place to be this past weekend. More than 1,400 U-M fans showed up for Friday night's 14-3 blowout of the Buckeyes, and another 1,956 showed up for Saturday's doubleheader wins. The weather was near perfect the first two days with temperatures in the mid-60s on Friday and temps in the 70s on Saturday, while the baseball (especially the outcome) was as good as it can get.
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The crowds, the atmosphere … they were outstanding," Maloney said. "And to win convincingly against our archrivals was great satisfaction.
"In the early 80s, when I was coming to games, Michigan baseball used to attract large crowds to come out and see Barry Larkin and Jim Abbott and Chris Sabo and it has been one of my dreams that the fans would return to see this program.
"The stadium this weekend was packed and the feeling was electric. And I told my boys after Sunday's game that they went out, the entire weekend, and represented the big block 'M' as well as it can be. They went out and beat the tar out of their rivals, on our field, in front of our fans. As a player, as a coach, as a fan, beating Ohio State is the pinnacle and our kids reached it. It was the perfect weekend."
That was last weekend, though. Michigan's gamut of tough foes continues with a trip to third-place Purdue (7-5) this weekend, and that's where Maloney's and his team's focus is. The Wolverines also have a Wednesday evening game at Eastern Michigan.
"When you think about what we're doing well, we're getting off to good starts – in our Ohio State series we had the lead after the first inning in each game – we're getting great pitching right now and we're getting timely hitting," Maloney said. "I still think our hitting could be better. We hit .368 against Ohio State, and we're coming through in the clutch but we have the bats to knock the ball around every inning and we're still not doing that. So by no means are we a finished product.
"I've said from the beginning this team, with its youth and the inconsistencies that come with that inexperience, will probably be playing its best baseball in May and I still believe that. What this stretch has done, winning seven of eight against Minnesota and Ohio State, has just put us in a position to have a much better record than maybe I thought we would.
"Instead of grinding it out at the Big Ten Tournament, we could be hosting, but I'm not one to get ahead of ourselves. We have five very difficult series remaining and if we take a step back and go 10-10 in our next 20 games then this great start will be a forgotten memory."