Saturday afternoon, in the second half of its doubleheader against Penn State, the No. 18 Michigan baseball team found itself in a five-run hole after four innings.
But, like they have all year, the Wolverines came through in the clutch, pulling together a comeback that lifted Michigan (11-4 Big Ten) to an 8-6 victory over the Nittany Lions (4-10). The victory capped off a three-game series that saw a 3-2 Penn State win on Friday and a resounding 17-4 victory for the Wolverines in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader.
One might think the dominance of Saturday’s first contest would translate into momentum entering the second game. That didn’t happen, though, putting the Wolverines in the all-too-familiar position of needing to come from behind.
“For us, it’s really not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves,” sophomore fielder Clark Elliott said. “We know we have the capability to come back at any situation. We don’t really have to think too hard.”
The comeback started when fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems hit a solo shot to bring the Wolverines within four. They would tack on two more runs in the top of the sixth, courtesy of a Jordon Rogers single. The redshirt sophomore catcher filled in for the missing fifth-year outfielder Christan Bullock and finished with four hits on the afternoon.
“With (Bullock) going out I knew that my number would be called shortly,” Rogers said. “When I got the call, everyone was excited for me. I was excited for myself.”
Contributions from players like Rogers epitomized the team’s relentless effort and determination. That mentality was on full display when the Wolverines were down two going into the ninth. With the series on the line and two men on, sophomore first baseman Jimmy Obertop ripped a ball to short and reached first on a fielder’s choice. Elliott then tied the game on a blooper to centerfield. Despite a slow start, nothing deterred the Wolverines.
“We’ve gotten down early in games prior, falling behind kind of early,” Elliott said. “It was a 3-0 count and I got a pitch I could drive.”
In the 10th inning, Sems was hit by a pitch. He then advanced to second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch. Rogers then gave the Wolverines their first lead since the 2nd inning on a hustle double. Fifth-year Christian Molfetta added an insurance run on a double that gave Michigan an 8-6 advantage. Junior right-hander Willie Weiss then sealed the victory with a commanding bottom of the 10th.
“We value freebies. We love them. We accept them,” Rogers said. “With the hustle doubles, we knew the grass was thick, if the outfielders were lollygagging to the ball, why not test it?”
That determination, though, was not reflected in Friday’s loss. Despite strong play from redshirt sophomore lefthander Stephen Hajjar, who provided Michigan with six innings and allowed two runs, only one of which was earned. He also put together 11 strikeouts against 24 batters, but the Wolverines’ bats couldn’t match his dominance, leading to Penn State’s 3-2 win.
Early on, the first game of the doubleheader felt reminiscent of Friday. The Wolverines went into the 4th trailing 1-0 before a trio of runs. The Nittany Lions would respond with three of their own, but from that point on, Michigan ruled the day. The bats finally woke up. They exploded for eight runs in the 5th and 6th combined. They added another in the eighth and then erupted for five more in the ninth. By the time the onslaught was over, Michigan had a landslide 17-4 victory.
“On Friday we struggled to create scoring opportunities for ourselves, “ Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “You can feel sorry for yourself or you can keep swinging hard. Our guys came out swinging again.”
Bakich’s mentality instills confidence in the rest of the roster, too.
“There’s nothing we can’t do. We’re a top team in the Big Ten,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to stay true to ourselves and play our game. There’s really nothing we should change.”
Added Elliott: “It’s a team game. We’re all trying to do our part and help the team win.”