It was a weekend of a few highs and many lows for the Michigan baseball team.
There was disappointment on Friday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., as the Wolverines’ (4-3) early 6-0 lead over UConn (3-3) crumbled away over the last four innings into an 8-7 loss.
There was jubilation on Saturday, when freshman third baseman Ted Burton hit his first career home run to drive in three. The shot brought Michigan’s lead to 13-2 and helped facilitate an explosive 14-2 win.
On Sunday, frustration returned, as the Wolverines fell behind early and never recovered, falling, 9-2, to the Huskies.
Michigan’s mindset going into its weekend series was already affected by its 7-1 loss to UConn last week during the MLB4 Collegiate Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. After this weekend, it’s clear the Huskies have been effective in tempering the Wolverines’ momentum after three high-caliber wins against Vanderbilt, Cal Poly and Arizona State.
Michigan came fast out of the gate in Friday’s game with five runs in the first inning, sending UConn’s starter Will Lucas out of the game early. Strangely enough, the five runs came off only one hit due to a string of walks, a sac fly and a UConn error.
After junior Jordan Nwogu’s first home run of the season brought Michigan’s lead to 6-2 in the second inning, it seemed like the Wolverines would find redemption after last Sunday’s loss. But the Huskies’ four runs in the top of the sixth –– two off junior right-hander Jeff Criswell and two off freshman right-hander Cameron Weston –– began to turn the tide.
“Normally when you knock a starter out after two-thirds of an inning and put a five-spot up in the first inning, that’s a pretty good recipe for winning the game,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “The big four-spot in the sixth inning was when they got all the momentum back … so, they kind of blew it in the first inning, and we blew it in the sixth.”
Friday’s result was still of relatively little concern for Bakich.
“I think that was a game that would’ve continued to have multiple lead changes the way it was going,” he added. “They just happened to be the ones with the one-run lead after the ninth.”
Saturday was a different story. A similar 6-2 lead by the end of the second inning held this time around and was compounded by seven-run fourth inning, which included Burton’s inaugural home run, bringing the score to 13-2.
Redshirt freshman Steven Hajjar started and secured the win in his five innings of pitching. Freshman left-hander Jacob Denner, meanwhile, attained his first career save after four scoreless innings, maintaining the Wolverines’ 14-2 lead.
“I’m glad we showed what we could do on Day 2,” Denner said. “I was glad because it’s definitely different transitioning from high school. … I’ve been hanging around (redshirt senior) Ben Keizer, Jeff Criswell and (redshirt sophomore) Isaiah Page a lot, and they’ve done a great job in getting me ready for these moments.”
Sunday’s rubber match looked more like Michigan’s 7-1 loss back in Scottsdale, though. After a slow start of three scoreless innings for both teams, UConn rallied at two outs in the fifth inning to extend its 2-0 lead into an insurmountable 8-0 edge.
Save for one run in the bottom of the sixth, the Wolverines stalled until the ninth inning which started off with a promising four at-bats. Sophomore infielder Cam Hart managed to reach home off a single from Nwogu. With the bases loaded and still no outs, there was a glimmer of hope that the Huskies’ lead could shrink. But three strikeouts in a row quickly extinguished that chance to end the game and the Wolverines’ roller coaster weekend.
“The way we competed in those first four at-bats in the ninth –– if we had done it every at-bat of the weekend, we’d have had a different result,” Bakich said.
Despite their offensive dominance on Saturday, the team’s woes ultimately seemed to lie with an inability to respond with runs. In both the first and third games, one or two breakout innings from UConn thwarted Michigan’s offensive momentum.
“I’m disappointed that our at-bats weren’t as competitive as they could’ve been in the first and third game,” Bakich said. “We need to do a better job hitting good pitches with less than two strikes and battling with two strikes to string quality at-bats together. … The lack of success this weekend is us pointing the thumb at some of our lack of execution, and that’s really it.
“We’ve got a clear plan for the week ahead of what we need to get better at.”