With the bases loaded and an angry home crowd, it seemed like the Wolverines’ early success against Minnesota was about to stall.
The mood in Ray Fisher Stadium had grown frustrated as the umpire called ball after ball on starting sophomore right-hander Jeff Criswell’s pitching.
That quickly fizzled away, however, as a double play ended the fourth inning as a groundout from Minnesota’s Cole McDevitt was caught by senior Blake Nelson, flung to second and then to senior Jimmy Kerr at first to catch Jordan Kozicky.
This sharp fielding was on display throughout Michigan’s 8-0 win in the final game of its weekend series against the Golden Gophers on Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines were eager to round out the series on a high note after hard-fought games Friday and Saturday that ended 4-6 and 5-3, respectively.
They did that and more. The Wolverines’ scoring started early as sophomore Jesse Franklin fired off a home run to right field in the bottom of the first –– foreshadowing a home run-heavy day. Not to be outdone, Kerr launched another one to right field for Michigan’s first at-bat in the second.
“I think we really just had the mindset of attacking them from the beginning,” Franklin said. “They’re a good team and after this weekend we wanted to get a series win.
“We were all ready to go. I just got up to bat sooner than the other guys.”
Clutch plays from Michigan, as well as reliable pitching from Criswell, prevented Minnesota from ever gaining any kind of foothold offensively. In the top of the second, Blomgren and Kerr combined to turn a ground out into an inning-ending double play. Criswell, meanwhile, excelled all day in detecting the Golden Gophers’ attempts to steal bases.
“I thought Jeff (Criswell) had his best day today,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He did a really good job pitching us out of huge jams … they had plenty of scoring opportunities and to minimize those opportunities was a huge storyline this weekend.”
Even when he didn’t, Michigan’s strong fielding stepped in. When Minnesota’s Drew Hmielewski slipped behind Criswell in the top of the third and sprinted toward second base, sophomore catcher Joe Donovan reacted instantly, firing the ball to senior Ako Thomas at second base to stop him in his tracks.
The Wolverines’ consistent defense was certainly integral to their win.
“We played great defense,” Bakich said. “Those double plays were huge momentum plays, all three to end the inning in really high-leverage, high-traffic situations.”
The fifth inning showcased Minnesota’s difficulty in breaking through. Right-hander Brett Schulze, who came from the bullpen in one of the team’s numerous pitching changes, cycled through nine of Michigan’s hitters and allowed a two-run homer from sophomore Jack Blomgren.
In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd erupted in cheers for Criswell as he was relieved by sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith. A close call with the bases loaded in the eighth was once again extinguished by a fast-paced Michigan double play to end the inning and keep Minnesota scoreless.
Two more runs from Donovan and Lewis brought the final score to 8-0 –– a far cry from the close games on Friday and Saturday.
“I didn’t really feel like we played too well Friday or yesterday,” Bakich said. “So our challenge going into today was really to have a complete game from a pitching, offensive, and defensive standpoint … to play championship-caliber baseball.
“Our guys responded to that challenge very well.”