Sophomore infielder Ted Burton stepped into the batters’ box at the bottom of the second with the full intention of hitting the ball. After an embarrassing loss to Indiana the day before, Burton knew giving his team a chance to score could make the difference in the game.
After a 0-1 count, Burton lined the ball through left field for a single, giving life to the Wolverines’ offense and setting the tone for the entire game. Burton went on to hit three-of-four on the day, boosting Michigan for a win over the Hoosiers 6-1.
The Michigan baseball team (25-13 Big Ten) played No. 21 Indiana (24-12 Big Ten) on Sunday for the final game of the series. The Wolverines opened the game with a swift relief of Indiana’s offense. Left-hander Jacob Denner and the Michigan defense allowed a single through to left field but quickly grounded out the remaining Hoosier batters to give the Wolverines a scoring opportunity.
“Talking to (redshirt sophomore left-handerSteven Hajjar) and (sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston) really helped me,” Denner said. “Really thinking about a game plan to attack those hitters, who are all extremely talented.”
In the second inning, Michigan capitalized. Fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems and Burton had back-to-back singles to put the Wolverines on first and third. After a sacrificial flyout by fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur, Michigan put the first score on the board.
Sophomore infielder Tito Flores continued the hitting barrage by crushing an RBI double into left field to push the Wolverines up 2-0.
Michigan added another score in the fourth after Burton hit a double to center field and finished with a run on a wild pitch. Burton was able to initiate the Wolverines’ offense when it mattered most — which would allow the defense to continue to flourish.
“We say our best defense is our offense,” Proctor said. “To show that we can put up those types of numbers gives our pitching staff and defense all the confidence in the world.”
Despite allowing a lone home run in the fifth, Michigan continued to negate Indiana’s offense and give itself opportunities in the batters’ box.
Senior right-hander Blake Beers pitched in relief for Denner in the seventh, immediately striking out the first Hoosier batter he faced. After giving up a single, Beers and the Michigan defense cleaned up with a critical ground out to maintain the Wolverines’ lead at 3-1.
“For (Beers) to jump into a role as a high-leverage reliever is a huge boost for us,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He throws 95, 97 with a nasty breaking ball as well. When he’s filling up the strike zone with those two pitches like he was today, he’s really good.”
Junior right-hander Willie Weiss replaced Beers in the eighth, striking out Indiana utility player Drew Ashley, who had given the Hoosiers quality offensive production the day before. The Wolverines made another pitching change after Weiss gave up two walks, putting junior right-hander Will Proctor on the mound.
“Something that’s been instilled in us since the fall is a ‘next man up’ attitude,” Proctor said. “If one guy can’t get it done, it’ll be the next guy. That attitude is the bread and butter on this team.”
Proctor and the Michigan defense quickly got themselves out of trouble, grounding out Indiana to maintain the Wolverines’ lead and looked to close out the game. Almost mirroring the second inning, Sems and Burton again hit singles to put runners on base, and Flores had another RBI double to put Michigan up 4-1.
After a pitching error by the Hoosiers, the Wolverines pulled ahead 6-1, Proctor and the Wolverines’ defense was able to relieve Indiana to close out a hard-fought series.
“A lot of our mindset is just to attack the strike zone,” Denner said. “Those hitters are extremely talented, but watching Blake and Will completely dominate was awesome to watch. Getting out of big jams and Proctor closing the door.”
Michigan was fueled by big hits from Burton, Sems, and Flores, and its defense showed up when it counted, reversing the result from the day before and putting itself back in the Big Ten championship picture.
“We know what the prize is,” Bakich said “Sticking with the process of competing pitch-to-pitch and just trying to win innings, that’s what’s most important.”