WESTWOOD, Calif. — Michigan had no business staying competitive in Saturday night’s affair with UCLA. That is, at least according to coach Erik Bakich.
“If I’d have told you we were going to walk ten and make five errors and be in a 12-inning ball game with the number one team in the country, I don’t think anyone would have believed me,” Bakich said. “It was very similar to last week where we just had some sloppy plays that cost us.”
Including last week, sloppy play has been a theme all too familiar to the Wolverines, particularly in several of the year’s biggest losses.
In total, Michigan’s mistakes last night, excluding three intentional walks, gifted the Bruins 19 extra bases.
The first five innings for the Wolverines were their best of the night on the defensive side of the ball, as sophomore starting pitcher Jeff Criswell only walked one batter while hitting another. He battled through several jams and ceded only one run in a resilient outing.
In the sixth though, the levee finally broke against Criswell. Despite letting the leadoff hitter reach base in the first five innings, the sixth inning saw another UCLA run cross the dish.
The culprit? Three free bases.
Leading off, Bruins first baseman Michael Toglia walked on five pitches. He advanced to second on a balk, before subsequently reaching third on a passed ball. With one out, a single drove Toglia in.
Following a quiet bottom of the sixth through eight innings in which the only hit came courtesy of a Toglia homerun to left field, UCLA hit into two quick outs in the top of the ninth.
The two-out rally started with a free pass, in this instance a walk to shortstop Ryan Kreidler. He then swiped second base on the first pitch to the next batter, second baseman Chase Strumpf, who a few pitches later lofted a fly ball deep into left field.
Junior outfielder Christian Bullock settled under the ball but, to the shock of everyone in attendance, could not secure the last out. Kreidler scored standing up, courtesy of the two blunders by the Wolverines.
Then, in the top of the 11th inning, the free passes put Michigan in a bind again. First, a throwing error by Ako Thomas gifted the Bruins a leadoff runner.
After a subsequent Blake Nelson throwing error on what seemed like a routine double play, the Bruins had runners on second and third with no outs. To set up a force all-around, Bakich intentionally walked Strumpf, loading the bases with no outs.
After freshman lefty Walker Cleveland entered the game, he induced a hard ground ball again to Nelson. He atoned for his major throwing error by tagging the lead runner and stepping on third for a double play. After an intentional walk to Toglia, Cleveland retired the next batter to miraculously escape the jam untouched.
In the 12th, though, the miscues continued. A leadoff bunt by freshman pinch hitter Jake Moberg was mishandled by Cleveland, giving UCLA another leadoff baserunner. After a quick strikeout, sophomore shortstop Kevin Kendall laced a pitch into right center, just beyond the outstretched arms of a diving Jesse Franklin. As it dropped, Moberg raced around third, scoring ahead of the throw. The Bruins captured a 5-4 lead before closing out the game in the bottom of the inning.
“Much like last week, head hits the pillow tonight, this one’s over and it doesn’t matter,” Bakich said. “We have an opportunity to come out tomorrow and if I know our team they’ll be chomping at the bit, ready to go.”
If the past two games have been any indication of how tonight’s game will play out, the defense needs to come prepared. With a trip to Omaha on the line, the margin for error could not be more thin.