Before a trip to Evanston this weekend, it seemed as if the Michigan baseball team was already firing on all cylinders, as it was undefeated on a six-game tear. However, the Wolverines showed they were capable of even more, tallying three dominant wins against Northwestern to open Big Ten play undefeated and bring their win streak to nine.
As they have all season, starting pitchers Oliver Jaskie and Brett Adcock excelled on the mound, earning their fifth and third wins of the season, respectively.
The defense was outstanding as well, and for the first time this season, it went a weekend without recording a single error.
But against the Wildcats, it was the Wolverine offense that stole the thunder — Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 20-5 overall) racked up 33 runs in three games to sweep Northwestern.
Jaskie started the first game of a two-game doubleheader Friday, and almost immediately, he was given some room to work. Michigan pushed across three in the third, and was up 8-2 by the top of the fifth inning.
Sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens batted in a run in the ninth, adding to his three-hit performance in helping the Wolverines to a 10-4 win.
Getting the first win of the day was a plus for Michigan, but the weekend was highlighted by a performance in game two Friday that Michigan coach Erik Bakich says he hasn’t seen in 20 years.
In the top of the first, fifth-year senior Matt Ramsay drilled the first good pitch he saw over the fence for a two-run homer and then hit another one in the third. Ramsay wasn’t done, though.
The No. 2 hitter said the ball started looking as big as a watermelon coming out of the pitcher’s hand, and he gave the Wolverines an eight-run lead in the sixth with yet another two-run blast.
“(In game one), I had some tough (at-bats), and had to make an adjustment between games with coach Bakich,” Ramsay said. “I got a 2-0 fastball my first at-bat. Sometimes, that’s all you need is a 2-0 fastball to get you out of a rut.”
All in all, Ramsay was 5-for-6 in the game, with three home runs and seven RBI. His contributions were just part of a 21-hit parade by the Wolverines for a 12-3 victory.
Sunday, even without a multi home-run effort from Ramsay, the Wolverines managed to plate 11 runs on their way to an 11-9 come-from-behind victory.
This time, the Wildcat offense made itself known by getting ahead early in the game.
Michigan sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof started but was knocked out of the game early, and left-handed reliever Keith Lehmann gave up a grand slam in the third inning, putting Michigan down, 8-6.
The Wolverines wasted no time in staging a comeback, however. For the third straight game, the Northwestern pitching staff was unable to stop the stampede of hits from the Michigan offense.
Senior outfielder Cody Bruder led the charge, slapping a liner into the right-field corner to score two runs and tie the game at eight in the fourth. Then, sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer put the Wolverines back in the lead with a single brought Bruder around from second to score.
An RBI from junior catcher Harrison Wenson and another from Bruder gave Michigan some insurance in the seventh.
Northwestern threatened in the eighth, but sophomore right-hander Bryan Pall didn’t let the Wolverines squander their advantage. With a three-run lead, Pall came in the game with the bases loaded and nobody out. Pall worked out of the jam, finishing the inning with only one Northwestern run scoring.
“In a situation like that, we need strikeouts, we need pop ups and we need weak ground ball contact. Bryan gave us all of those things,” Bakich said.
Pall finished the deal in the ninth for the two-inning save and an 11-9 win to seal the sweep.
Besides the outburst of power from Ramsay on Friday, Wenson points to the Wolverines base-running ability as their main source of runs.
“We knew we could take advantage of swiping bases and getting guys in scoring position,” Wenson said. “Getting people moving, having some extra 90s … we scored a lot of runs because of that.”
The strong performance this weekend adds to an even stronger start to the season, reaching 20 wins through 25 games for the first time since the “glory days” of Michigan baseball in the 1980s. But a spectacular weekend with a ton of fireworks, both offensively and defensively, doesn’t have the Wolverines resting on laurels.
“So far, we’re still plodding along, we’re still trying to get better,” Bakich said. “We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.”