Graduate transfer infielder Benjamin Sems laid down the bunt to perfection in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game against Maryland, sending the ball rolling past the pitcher to the third baseman. Sems was so close to first base by the time the ball had been collected that the Maryland third baseman didn’t even bother with a throw.
Instead, he turned to see sophomore outfielder Clark Elliott sprinting around third base in an attempt to score two runs on the squeeze play. Since Sems was already safe at first base, the third baseman calmly turned and ran at Elliott, who was caught in a rundown and tagged out. The next batter, sophomore outfielder Tito Flores, hit a fly ball that would have been a sacrifice fly and would likely have scored Elliott if the Wolverines had just played it safe.
This sort of baserunning mistake was a recurring issue throughout the weekend series against the Terrapins and Northwestern, both of which Michigan split, as extremely aggressive baserunning turned into costly outs that limited runs.
“We made a couple of mistakes,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “Just getting out on the bases, things come up that just need to be corrected, whether it be shortening a lead or extending a lead or getting a better jump.”
The Wolverines have run into several other outs in recent games, too. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Jordon Rogers was picked off of first base after getting a very aggressive lead during the loss to Northwestern on Sunday. He took several skips away from the base to disrupt the Wildcat left-hander staring him down from the mound but was made to pay for it when the pitcher threw over to first base. Rogers also ran into another out in a later game against Maryland on Monday when he was thrown out trying to steal third.
“There’s a lot that goes into base running, and we spend an extraordinary amount of time on it,” Bakich said. “It’s certainly created a lot of scoring opportunities for us over the years so it’s something we take a lot of pride in and try to use it and deploy it to our advantage. Some of the most successful teams we’ve had have been guys that have had that combination of speed and power throughout the lineup. Where there’s multiple ways to score, those seem to be the best offenses.”
Later in Sunday’s loss against Northwestern, Flores hesitated for a moment to advance on a pitch in the dirt, but decided to break for second base and was gunned down by the Wildcat catcher. As if on cue, the batter at the plate, redshirt junior outfielder Danny Zimmerman, smoked a double off the wall that likely would’ve scored Flores from first base had he not run into an out.
Elliott also was thrown out trying to score on a ground ball to shortstop in the Wolverines’ first game against Maryland. Elliott’s hesitation, like Flores’s, was costly as he waited a split second before aggressively trying to score on a softly-hit ground ball. He was caught in a rundown coming home and eventually tagged out.
“I think it was just unlucky,” sophomore catcher Jimmy Obertop said. “We’re always trying to be aggressive, it’s better to be in an aggressive state than a passive one.”
Bakich’s teams are known for being aggressive on the bases, and they have forced other teams into many errors this season. The mistakes this weekend may have cost the team several runs, but Bakich is not worried about his team’s aggressiveness on the bases in the long term:
“We want to be aggressive up to a calculated risk,” Bakich said. “The thing that we talked about is trying to be about 50% successful in stealing bases. If we feel like we can steal the base with 80% success, then it’s worth taking the risk.”