The final regular season series began Thursday afternoon for the No. 16 Michigan baseball team in East Lansing, but after a poor offensive outing and some crucial defensive mistakes, Michigan State ran away with the game and the Wolverines fell, 6-1.
Instead of junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie on the mound — Michigan's usual No. 1 starter — junior right-hander Alec Rennard got the start. He appeared to be cruising after he retired the side in the first inning and struck out two in the bottom of the second inning. But Michigan State took advantage of some momentum and strung together three hits, a walk and a passed ball to score four runs.
The damage could have been limited when Spartan outfielder Brandon Hughes hit a pop up just past the edge of the infield. Redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis and senior shortstop Michael Brdar both ran for the ball and due to a miscommunication, the ball dropped — allowing the final two runs of the inning to score.
It appeared that Rennard was back on track, though, after he retired the side in the third inning, but after a leadoff home run by infielder Marty Bechina in the fourth inning, junior right-hander Ryan Nutof came in to relieve Rennard in the fifth inning. Both pitchers had decent success in terms of strikeouts, as Rennard and Nutof finished the day with six and five, respectively.
But the Spartans were able to capitalize on the Wolverines’ defensive mishaps. Two errors were made on the day, both by Nutof. He attempted to try and pick runners off at first base in the fifth and sixth innings, but the throws were wild and the runner advanced to third base both times. While no runs were scored, Michigan's defense — which led the nation in fielding percentage entering this week — did not look nearly as sharp as normal.
Michigan State’s defense, on the other hand, was barely challenged. Spartan left-hander Alex Troop had a no-hitter through six innings and finished the day with a career-high 10 strikeouts.
Breaking up the no-hitter was senior centerfielder Johnny Slater with a single to centerfield in the seventh inning. Brdar followed with his own single up the middle. The Wolverines threatened to score for the first time all day and both runners advanced after junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer grounded out to second base. A sacrifice-fly by Lewis brought Slater home and put Michigan on the board.
Those two hits ended up being the Wolverines’ only ones for the day, though, as Michigan was held to a .069 batting average.
“It wasn’t our day for sure,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I thought we chased our band down in the strike zone, struck out a lot more than we normally do, only drew one walk. It wasn’t a very good offensive day at all, not a lot of competitive at bats.”
While the game didn’t go as the Wolverines hoped, a bright spot was the return of second baseman Ako Thomas. The sophomore made his first start since he suffered a left hand injury April 21. He was taken out of the game and replaced by redshirt freshman second baseman Joe Pace in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“He’s not 100% yet,” Bakich said. “He thought he was to a level where he could start the game and (his hand) started bugging him during the game so he came out. No need to push it right now. … We’d rather have him in there a little bit of the time than no time at all.”
With two games left in the series, Michigan will need to make some crucial adjustments in order to clinch the series.
“It’s a mindset thing,” Bakich said. “This game will piss (the team) off and they’ll want to come back and redeem themselves tomorrow.”