It took a postponement, four hour, 18 minute rain delay and eight innings of battling freezing rain but the Michigan baseball team (21-11 overall, 8-0 Big Ten) has finally extended its win streak to 17.
The outcome of Sunday night’s 6-3 win over Maryland (16-19, 3-5) came down to the eighth inning — the final inning before the Terrapins had to catch their flight home. Slugger Kevin Biondic came to the plate down four, representing the tying run with one out and the bases loaded.
He fought off an inside pitch to place a bloop into the outfield, where it looked destined to cut the Wolverines’ lead to two. Junior second baseman Ako Thomas came sprinting into the outfield, took a look over his left shoulder and laid out onto the block M in center field. When he stood up, the ball was in his glove and the win all but secured. As he fired the ball back to the infield, Thomas’ hat flew off his head like Willie Mays making ‘the catch.’
“That should be on SportsCenter tonight,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I don’t know if there are nine better plays in sports today than that one.
“It saved the game because that was two runs that would have scored and flip the momentum. Instead the momentum stayed with us. … That was a huge play in a huge spot and only Ako Thomas can make that play.”
Earlier in the game, Michigan took its first lead with four runs in the second after going down 1-0 in the top of the frame.
“Six quality at-bats in a row including three free passes,” Bakich said. “So drawing the three walks was a big part of it.”
Junior center fielder Jonathan Engelmann provided the fireworks, knocking home two with an opposite-field double after a bases-loaded walk and RBI groundout to put the Wolverines in the lead.
“I didn’t think they were going to pitch to him with a base open and runners on second and third and one out,” Bakich said. “I thought they would pitch around him and go after (junior third baseman Blake) Nelson, but Engelmann did a good job, taking advantage of a 3-1 fastball to hit and drilled it down the line and got those two runs in.”
From there, freshman left-hander Ben Dragani took over. He gave up two runs — more than his previous four starts combined — on two home runs but fought off the rain to make it through six innings.
He got into a jam in the fourth, with runners on second and third with one out before freezing Zach Jancarski with a fastball on the inside corner to get the strikeout. Dragani got the next batter to lazily fly out to right to get out of the inning unscathed.
“He seems very calm and collected out there,” Bakich said. “That, combined with his good stuff — he’s got a good fastball, good breaking ball, good changeup and the ability to command all of his pitches — creates an opportunity to escape a jam and that’s what he did.”
Added Dragani: “I was just trying to stay focused, and make the next pitch and make it as best I could, whether it was inside fastball or slider, just try to put it where coach calls for it.”
Freshman first baseman Jesse Franklin gave Dragani some room to breathe. He roped an RBI double off the right-field line in the fifth before blasting a solo home run two innings later.
Despite its eighth inning scare, that would be all Michigan needed to win its 17th in a row — the longest streak it has seen in three decades.