The top of the third was business as usual for sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston as he faced the next Indiana batter. In the previous inning, the Scarlet Knights had a 3-0 count and runners on first and second base, but Weston and the Michigan defense climbed out of that tough position with an impressive fielding performance.
After Weston threw the pitch, utility player Drew Ashley smashed the ball deep into right field for a triple, which marked the beginning of the Wolverines’ defensive struggles.
A hitting barrage by Indiana’s lineup, sparked by a throwing error and a wild pitch by Michigan, allowed the Scarlet Knights to jump out to an early 4-0 lead, eventually leading to a 13-8 loss.
“Tip of the cap to Indiana to get those big hits with two outs today,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “(Indiana) got more two-out RBI’s than we did. Eight two-out RBI’s is a lot, that really was the difference in the game.”
By the seventh inning, Indiana held a 7-0 lead and looked to close out the game as the Wolverines were unable to garner any production from its offense.
But the Michigan bats decided to wake up at just the right moment. With the bases loaded, sophomore infielder Tito Flores hit a double RBI to center field to notch the Wolverines’ first score of the game. Throughout the rest of the inning, singles by fifth-year catcher Christian Molfetta, sophomore infielder/outfielder Clark Elliot, and sophomore infielder Jimmy Obertop added four additional runs to shrink Indiana’s lead to just two.
“I thought our position players did a good job today,” Bakich said. “They didn’t quit. It would be easy for most teams to quit once you’re down seven in the late innings, but we didn’t. ”
But the late-game comeback fell short, as the Michigan defense collapsed in the eighth inning. After two walks and a balk, the Wolverines allowed an additional two walks and hit a pitcher to gift the Scarlet Knights three hitless scores.
“Not getting the shutdown inning was disappointing,” Bakich said. “That’s an area we pride ourselves on as to when we score and put a zero up the next inning.”
Michigan made multiple pitching changes including graduate right-hander Joe Pace, junior right-hander Willie Weiss, and senior right-hander Blake Beers, but none of them were able to stop the bleeding. Two additional RBI singles by Indiana put an additional three scores on the board to put the Wolverines behind 13-5.
“Two of our most trusted guys (are) Joe Pace and Willie Weiss,” Bakich said. “(Pace and Weiss) pitch in the most high-leverage situations for us. That’s the life of a high-leverage reliever and closer, it doesn’t always go your way and you just got to have amnesia and be ready to go the next day.”
Although Michigan put together another scoring streak with three runs in the eighth, Indiana shutdown the Wolverines’ bats in the ninth to close out a rollercoaster game. It’s no surprise that Michigan’s offense remained consistent in its inconsistency, but it was ultimately the defense that sealed its fate.
“I have no issues with the two errors we made defensively,” Bakich said. “I have confidence in our defense. Our players have confidence in our defense. It’s just one of those things where they got those two-out hits, that’s what made the difference.”
The Wolverines play their final game of the series on Sunday and the Wolverines will need their defense to step up in big moments as they have several times throughout the season. With the regular season winding down and Michigan falling to third in the standings, another win against the first-ranked team in the conference could make the difference in the Wolverines’ Big Ten title hopes.
“(The games) are magnified at the end, it always is,” Bakich said. “Right now for us, we need to not be focused on the standings and championships, we need to be shrinking the moment and make it about competing.
“I like how we competed, I have no issues with our mentality. As long as we keep our focus on shrinking the situation to just winning pitches and competing from pitch-to-pitch, we’re going to be just fine.”