Despite Collin Priest’s contributions, Michigan’s offense fell short in series loss against Indiana

Once every game, the Michigan dugout celebrated with joy when Collin Priest hit his home run running around the bases. But while the rookie designated hitter had little trouble finding his rhythm, the rest of his teammates can’t say the same.

The Wolverines (30-26 overall, 14-10 Big Ten) this season have continually relied on their power hitters to get their offense going. However, the power did little damage before Michigan was overwhelmed at the plate. Indiana (30-22-1 overall, 15-9 Big Ten) quickly recovered from each of those home runs and took the 2-1 series victory over the Wolverines.

Michigan’s only win in the series was an anomaly. The Wolverines battled a deficit from the moment the game began after sophomore right-hander Kurt Barr gave up a home run to the first batter he faced of the day. Michigan continued without an answer until the fourth inning.

And junior catcher Will Rogers broke that silence.

Rogers pitched a ball for a double, but more importantly, he allowed enough time for two runners to get home and take the lead, 2-1. That double, while showing Rogers’ power at the plate, doesn’t provide a strong impact if the hitters who should be on top don’t deliver. Indiana responded immediately with its own RBI single to tie the game. Two scoreless innings followed until Priest came to the plate in the eighth inning.

One swing later with the ball sent over the fence and Michigan entered the ninth inning with the game in its hands. While the home run was the extra touch the Wolverines needed to get the win, the backbone of the victory is attributed to the synergy of the fourth inning.

“We’ve talked all year, (Priest) has tremendous power and is still coming into his own as a hitter,” Michigan coach Tracy Smith said Friday. “As (Priest) develops, we’re starting to see flashes and glimpses of what he has the potential to be, that he’s a dominant force in the conference.”

And as Priest continued his dominant performance in the second game of a doubleheader, the Hoosiers joined in the hitting festivities. And, in fact, they eclipsed the Wolverines. The first three innings of the game were non-stop contact for Indiana. Senior right-hander Chase Allen started his outing with a walk and a pitch, giving the Hoosiers an open opportunity to convert. And they did just that.

Four consecutive Indiana batters scored a run and it was just the beginning. In the fourth inning, Michigan held a scoreless score while the Hoosiers had a 10-run lead.

The only two runs in the game for the Wolverines came via none other than a Priest home run. And despite the loss, Priest showed that he could put Michigan on the board with one hit.

As the Wolverines entered the third game of a tied series, they had to find production at the plate to combat Indiana’s relentless offense. However, while Michigan acquired quality at-bats, the reliance on hitting power, specifically from Priest, became its fault.

The Hoosiers started out similarly to the previous night, finding quick success at the plate. The Wolverines rallied from an Indiana error to bring the score to 3-1 in the third inning. But the Hoosiers’ foot stayed on the gas, adding three more runs before Michigan chipped in with a two-run homer off the bat of graduate shortstop Kyle Dernedde in the fifth inning.

The omnipotence of the home run only lasted so long, as Indiana quickly scored two more runs. Come the eighth inning and down five runs, the Wolverines began using their available roster to build momentum. But the only person who stepped up was Priest, giving up his third home run of the weekend, which ended the game 8-3.

“A good weekend for (Priest) with the consistency of the power,” Smith said. “But the idea is to win games, so we didn’t do that this weekend.”

Michigan showed it has the players to produce impactful moments, but relying solely on Priest puts it in the position of playing catch-up. Priest and the Wolverines’ other big hitters offer support, but without the extra hits, it’s difficult to turn moments into trends.