On Tuesday, the Michigan baseball team played its most dominant game of the season, trouncing Oakland 10-3.
The Wolverines (8-11) notched their fourth straight win coming off a series sweep of Bowling Green. In the first real display of consistency in the season, Michigan’s pitching, defense and offense were all effective in spoiling the Golden Grizzlies’ trip to Ann Arbor.
Things began quietly for the Wolverines, going scoreless through the first two innings. The two teams quickly retired each other’s first six batters before Michigan put its foot down in the third inning.
Then, junior infielder Ako Thomas began Michigan's fruitful scoring day with a 3 RBI double in the third. The base-clearing hit forced Oakland (3-15) to make a pitching change without an out. The Wolverines were not done, however, finishing the inning strong with another run, batted in by junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann.
The two players, Thomas and Engelmann, both had stellar outings going 2-for-5 and 2-for-4 from the plate, respectively. They also accumulated a combined six RBI on the day and scored three times.
Also contributing to the potent Michigan offense was freshman Jesse Franklin. After struggling early in the season, Franklin exploded onto the scene Tuesday blasting his first collegiate home run to left center field in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It felt really good,” Franklin said. “I wasn’t really thinking up there. I didn’t think it was out, but I knew I hit it hard which is what I was trying to do. It felt really good, so I want to do as much as I can to do it again.”
Entering the season, Franklin was given a true trial-by-fire, getting thrown straight into the middle of the Wolverine’s lineup as the team’s designated hitter. After amassing an underwhelming .160 batting average heading into Tuesday’s contest, Michigan coaches and fans waited for Franklin’s hot bat to arrive.
“He’s a very skilled, talented, future star in the making type of player,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Probably unfairly thrown in the middle of the lineup to start the season in the four hole. That’s a lot of pressure for the freshman, especially if you don’t get out of the gate hot, which not many freshman do.”
Going from the go-to guy in high school to struggling on a large Division-1 program is enough to humble any athlete and inspire them to break bad habits.
“When you’re a young kid, you gotta deal with adversity for the first time, it’s tough and you just gotta figure out and that’s what he’s done,” Bakich said. “Everything’s been better. His batting practice, his work in the cages, his work with the coaches, his work on his own.”
In many ways, Franklin’s trials and tribulations mirror the team’s this season. After entering with much promise, Franklin trudged along to a disappointing start, but now is looking to turn things around with impressive play from the plate.
In addition to the Wolverines’ strong offensive performance came a solid defensive outing which saw an inspiring mix of web gem defensive plays and elite pitching.
Starting things off for Michigan was senior right-hander Jayce Vancena who tossed five solid innings, allowing only three runs off four hits. Due to his pitching, the Wolverines never trailed the Golden Grizzlies and were able to expand a convincing lead deeper into the game.
On the defensive side, Thomas and freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren made diving play after diving play to essentially squash any life out of the Oakland offense.
“The defense, I thought, was very impressive today,” Bakich said. “Putting up their true potential with the web gems that Ako and Blomgren were making and just minimizing the other team’s opportunities.
“It’s unfortunate it took us a few weeks to get to that point, but sometimes that’s some of the ebbs and flows of this game. You lose your confidence and get down because you’re not coming out on the positive side of things, but that’s some of the things that can happen but good to see we’ve found our footing and find our stride here.”