After 17 consecutive road games, the Michigan baseball team swept the University of Illinois-Chicago in its home-opening series.
Now, the 20th-ranked Wolverines (16-5) will take on Central Michigan (1-2 Mid-American, 5-19 overall) Tuesday afternoon at Ray Fisher Stadium. Michigan defeated the Chippewas in the two games the teams played against each other last year, 5-3 and 6-5, respectively.
On paper, Central Michigan does not appear to be a formidable challenge for the Wolverines. The Chippewas have won only one road game this season, have a team batting average of .237 and an earned-run average of 6.94. Contrastingly, Michigan is hitting .303 and has a team ERA of 2.39.
But Central Michigan does have two clear playmakers in its batting lineup. Shortstop Zach McKinstry is currently hitting .351, with 34 hits and nine RBI while left fielder Daniel Jipping is batting .282, with three home runs and 15 RBI.
“We’re just going to keep focusing one pitch at a time, one inning at a time,” said junior first baseman and right-handed pitcher Carmen Benedetti. “I have full faith in the guys that we’re going to play well, play hard and the results will take care of themselves.”
While Michigan’s offense scored more than six runs just three times prior to the series against Illinois-Chicago, the Wolverines accomplished the feat twice against the Flames, scoring 10 runs in two of their games.
And Central Michigan will face Benedetti and senior catcher Harrison Wenson at the worst possible time, as both are hot at the plate.
Wenson was particularly impressive against the Flames. He recorded eight hits in 15 at-bats and drove in nine runs. Wenson’s biggest moment came in Friday’s contest, when he blasted a two-run home run to put Michigan ahead 4-2 en route to a 10-2 victory. Wenson is now hitting .417 on the season.
Benedetti shined for the Wolverines as well. He went 8-for-13 against Illinois-Chicago and scored the game-winning run off a single by senior centerfielder Cody Bruder in the bottom of the ninth inning in Michigan’s 5-4 win Sunday. Benedetti’s batting average increased from .298 to .357 over the weekend.
“Just sliding into home plate (on Bruder’s single) was a pretty fun feeling,” Benedetti said. “I had full intentions of scoring. (Bruder) hit the ball really hard up the middle, and I knew there was going to be a play at the plate. So I just had to run hard and do my best to score.”
Sophomore designated hitter Drew Lugbauer didn’t hold back in his praise for his teammates.
“Harrison Wenson and Carmen Benedetti have quality at-bats all of the time,” Lugbauer said on Sunday.
As if all of that weren’t enough, Benedetti pitched 2.2 shutout innings of relief Sunday and struck out four batters.
Against the Flames, the Wolverines’ starting pitching anchored them once again. Sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie, junior left-hander Brett Adcock and sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof each pitched at least six innings, gave up fewer than three runs and earned a victory.
However, since Michigan will be playing on only one day’s rest, Michigan coach Erik Bakich said to expect a starter outside of the main rotation.
“You can’t start a guy on that short (a period) of rest,” Bakich said. “So we’ll have a new starter.”
But he didn’t offer any specifics as to whom that might be.
“(The starter) will either be a lefty or a righty,” Bakich said with a grin. “I’ll have to talk to (pitching coach Sean) Kenny about it.”
While a new starter will present an unknown for the Wolverines, the fact that Michigan’s bats have been hot and teams are hitting .303 off of the Chippewas might just propel the Wolverines to victory anyway.