After two innings of play at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan starter Karl Kauffmann was forced to leave with an injury. In his place, coach Erik Bakich summoned freshman right hander Jeff Criswell out of the bullpen to pitch the third inning. Nearly two hours later, Criswell finally walked off the mound for the last time after five strong innings of relief.
Criswell — who came into the game with a career-high of 2 IP — never shied away from the challenge, overpowering hitters with an electric fastball. Despite a two-run fifth, his five strikeouts were enough to boost the Wolverines to a 10-7 win over Bowling Green and earn his first collegiate win.
“Jeff (went) in there and did an outstanding job of attacking the zone,” Bakich said, “being very aggressive with all of his pitches. Looked to have his best velocity, his best stuff in an extended outing. That’s the longest we’ve used him. Thought he did a great job.”
“I just wanted to stick to the plan that me and coach Fedder had talked about,” Criswell said, “which was just to attack each guy and let my defense do their work, and that’s what we did. They just made plays behind me, and I just kept the same mentality the whole time.”
Fortunately, Kauffmann’s injury does not appear to be cause for concern.
“He just tweaked his hammy,” Bakich said. “He’ll be fine, he’ll be pitching next weekend.”
Criswell also benefitted from an improved defense that only made one error behind him — the only error in the first 16 innings of the series after 27 in 15 games coming into the weekend.
“I thought the defense was pretty good. I usually try to note some of the good defensive plays,” Bakich said as he grabbed a note pad with pages worth of scribbled notes before reading off a lengthy list of defensive plays. “For a defense that for the most part has struggled in the early part of the season, even though we had too many errors, it was still good to see the quality of play was more consistent.”
Michigan’s rejuvenated offense has been another bright spot in the series. After eight runs in Friday’s ballgame, it jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third thanks to a slew of RBI singles from junior centerfielder Jonathan Engelmann, junior third baseman Blake Nelson, sophomore catcher Harrison Salter and freshman shortstop Jacob Blomgren.
The Wolverines’ batting has been ignited by freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu. Nwogu — an Ann Arbor native — had two career at-bats coming into the weekend’s series, but has since gone four-for-seven with six runs batted-in, capped off by a two-run shot to left to put his team up 10-5. It came at a clutch time, too, as a three-run Bowling Green eighth had just closed the deficit to three.
“In the dugout, right before that at-bat, (Criswell) told me ‘just swing as hard as you can and you’ll hit it out.’ ” Nwogu said. “And he left a pitch up, and it was right there so I swung as hard as I could.”
“It (was) a good opportunity to mix some things up and find a spark,” Bakich said. “And Jordan Nwogu these last few games has been a very nice spark for us.”
The Wolverines extended their lead to five in the fourth when Schmidt and Engelmann ran a perfectly executed double steal of second and home. Thomas and Nwogu also nabbed bags to give Michigan a season-high four steals.
“There are a lot of times that the running game just hasn’t been as prevalent because we’ve been trying to fight out of a deficit,” Bakich said. “But these last couple of games, we’ve been more aggressive putting guys in motion, whether it be with a steal or a hit and run or a slash and run, just looking for extra 90s. But a big part of our offense is getting extra 90s, so it’s good to see us collect quite a few of those today.”
While there was no shortage of encouraging signs on the field, the most heartening development of the day for the Wolverines came from the dugout, with the entire team standing on the top step cheering for all nine innings.
“Our loss on Wednesday was one of the lowest points of anyone’s baseball life, and it wasn’t because we lost to an NAIA school,” Bakich said. “We just looked not into it and looked like we didn’t care. The team saw some footage of how they looked in the dugout and it was a bit of a wakeup call for them.
Added Nwogu: “After that loss to Lawrence Tech, it opened everyone’s eyes and in practice Thursday, we noticed that we were down as a team and were not getting behind each other. Friday, we turned that right around and everyone had each other’s backs. 6-0 down, (our attitude was) who cares, we need to get these runs and help our pitchers out. It was just a light flicker that went off.”
For the Wolverines, it appears that film session might have been just what they needed to get their season on track.