With a man on second base, sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann hit a ball deep to centerfield. It appeared it might leave the park for a walk-off home run, but it bounced off the wall instead. Still, the hit was enough to bring junior first baseman Jake Bivens across the plate for the game-ending double.
It may have taken 13 innings, but the No. 13 Michigan baseball team secured the win over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday afternoon, 2-1.
The Wolverines were the first on the board after Bivens and sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier both hit identical singles past the first baseman. Engelmann followed it up by grounding into a double play, but it was enough to bring Bivens home. After putting up the run in the second inning, the offense slowed considerably until the Engelmann RBI finally ended the game.
After Michigan fell into early holes in multiple games against Illinois over the weekend, the Wolverines made a point to avoid that against the Eagles. Junior right-hander Jayce Vancena wasted no time in the first inning, striking out the side with ease. He’s normally not a pitcher known for strikeouts, but tied his career high of six in the midweek outing.
Along with fanning batters, Vancena’s usual style of pitching into ground balls was in full swing Tuesday, and his teammates behind him did not disappoint.
In such a low scoring game, the defense made a point to be sharper than ever.
“I think the defense definitely won us the game today,” said sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas. “It was tough out there, a lot of line drives that didn’t fall. Today we had to scrap, and that’s what we did and we came out on top.”
The defense was on full display in the fourth inning when Eastern Michigan’s designated hitter Brennan Williams hit a double to the right field wall. Engelmann collected it off the wall and relayed it to Thomas, who then made the throw to senior catcher Harrison Wenson to tag an Eagle out at the plate.
That would have been Eastern Michigan’s first run of the game and would have changed the situation of the inning completely. The play meant that there was one out and a man on second, as opposed to no outs, a run and a man on second.
“That in itself was a huge momentum shift in our favor,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “But the execution of the relay from Engelmann, to Ako, to Wenson with the good catch-tag, it was perfectly executed.
“That’s exactly like they’ve trained to do and they did it perfectly.”
Through 13 innings, seven Wolverines came out of the bullpen to help keep Michigan in the game. Senior right-hander Jackson Lamb — normally just the ninth-inning closer — pitched 2.1 innings and struck out four batters. But it was freshman right-hander Karl Kauffman who picked up the win after striking out two batters and forcing a pop up in just 13 pitches in the 13th inning.
“We have a pitching staff that can shut any team down,” Bivens said. “We’re going to try and score runs on offense, but we know our pitchers always have our back.”
While the players in the field and on the bump may have won this game for Michigan, the Wolverines will need to rediscover their offensive prowess before they face No. 18 Oklahoma on Thursday.