With the season on the line, Michigan coach Erik Bakich put the ball in the hands of his usual Saturday starter. But sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston was not his usual self against Central Michigan. He was continuously hit hard and struggled with his command at times. He ended up with a line of four and two-thirds innings, eight hits, five earned runs, and only struck out two batters. While Weston was less than stellar, the blame does not fall solely on him.
“They have to remember what this tastes like,” Bakich said. “Use it as fuel for future seasons. For most of them, it was their first time (in the postseason). It was very valuable that they got that experience.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Bakich went to his bullpen. He brought on freshman left-hander Logan Wood. Like Weston, the Chippewas found success against Wood. He faced two batters and walked both of them, forcing Bakich to switch relievers. Sixth-year right-hander Joe Pace came in and was unable to shut down Central Michigan. He pitched one inning and struck out two, but had to throw 32 pitches and allowed two runs.
Even though the offense has struggled lately, they took charge early. With one out in the top of the first inning, sophomore outfielder Tito Flores jumped on a pitch and sent it over the wall in right field. After that, however, the Wolverines fell back into a slump.
In the top of the second inning, it looked like Michigan was going to strike again. Fifth-year catcher roped a one-out double off the top of the wall in left. Sophomore first baseman Jimmy Obertop and junior second baseman Riley Bertram each struck out, disappointingly ending the inning.
The offense looked good in the beginning stages, but they did not build any momentum. Six different batters recorded a hit, but they left seven runners stranded. They made solid contact, but every time they had an opportunity the Chippewas shut them down.
They managed eight hits on the afternoon but generated only two runs. In the top of the ninth, trailing 8-1, Obertop launched a home run. Michigan has mounted some incredible comebacks this season, but the Chippewas were too much to overcome.
Saturday marked the end of an up and down season for the Wolverines. They were a competitive team in the Big Ten and hovered around the top 25 all year. However, down the stretch, they looked like a different unit. The lineup, aside from Flores and Burton, was suspect. The team’s three runs in two tournament games emphasize those struggles.
“The expectation is to make a run in the postseason,” Bakich said. “We were not just happy to be here. We fully expected to win this regional. The end result is a failure, but it would be foolish of me to say the whole season was a failure.”
The 2021 team was unlike any other. Due to a nice blend of experienced veterans, talented underclassmen, and savvy fifty-year transfers, Michigan finished with an impressive 27-19 record. They may not have finished the way they wanted, but Bakich has firm control over the program and they continue to trend upward.
After nearly hoisting the trophy in 2019, Bakich has remained obsessed with winning it all.
“There’s a feeling of emptiness because you know what you’re missing,” Bakich said. “It drives you to work even harder.”