The fairytale script was there.
Down 9-7 in the ninth inning, with two men on, two men out and a 2-2 count, junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer launched a ball deep to left field.
The crowd erupted, anticipating a walk off three-run home run – only to watch the ball drift foul.
The strong winds kept the ball from staying fair. On most other days, that shot would have been gone.
On the very next pitch, Lugbauer struck out.
“You’re not always going to get the fairy tale ending,” said junior right-hander Alec Rennard.
The loss marked the lone blemish for the No. 18 Michigan baseball team (6-3 Big Ten, 25-7 overall) in its three-game series against Illinois (1-5, 11-18), as the defeat snapped a nine-game win streak from the Wolverines.
Similar to the first game of the series, the Fighting Illini got on the scoreboard early Sunday.
In the top of the second inning, Illinois managed three runs with only one ball leaving the infield. After a leadoff single by right fielder Jack Yalowitz, Michigan junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson loaded the bases with a hit by pitch and a walk.
Then, third baseman Trent Hammond bunted down the third baseline. The ball was fielded by Hendrickson, whose throw bounced in front of junior first baseman Jake Bivens and slipped past him to the wall – allowing two runs to score. Two at-bats later, the Fighting Illini added another run on a fielder’s choice, giving them a 3-0 lead.
The following inning, Michigan’s woes continued when Illinois left fielder Dan Rowbottom hit a three-run home run.
Hendrickson’s outing ended after that homer. In 2.1 innings, he allowed two walks, six hits and six runs (three earned) – the most runs the lefty has given up on the season.
The Wolverines had allowed 16 combined runs in the first three innings of their last four games.
“Our mindset has consistently been good to start each game,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “But for whatever reason, we weren’t as sharp (in) three of the four games this week.”
Despite being down by six, the Wolverines responded quickly, cutting the deficit to two with four runs in the bottom of the third.
With the bases loaded, senior centerfielder Johnny Slater hit a single to right field, scoring sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier and sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann. Two at-bats later, with an 0-2 count, Lugbauer belted the ball to right field for a double, adding two more runs.
In the fifth, Michigan scored another run as sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas advanced home following a wild pitch. But the Fighting Illini picked that run back up in the seventh off a double by second baseman Michael Massey.
However, it could have been a much worse inning for the Wolverines. With men on second and third and no outs, senior right-hander Mac Lozer and freshman left-hander Tommy Henry escaped the jam with two strikeouts and a ground-out.
In the bottom of the eighth, Michigan had a comeback opportunity with runners on first and second. But the Wolverines were unable to capitalize, leaving both men on base. On the day, Michigan stranded eight runners.
“There were a couple of opportunities that we had that maybe we missed,” Rennard said. “But I think we did a really good job on offense, defense and pitching to settle things down.”
Despite the loss, the bullpen proved to be a bright spot. In six and two-thirds innings of relief, the bullpen allowed only one run and struck out seven. Rennard highlighted the bullpen’s strong effort, coming in for Hendrickson and allowing only one run in 3.2 innings.
“(My mindset) was just to throw up zeroes, and keep the team in it by doing the best job I could and swing the momentum back in our favor,” Rennard said.
In order to ensure that Sunday’s game is an anomaly, Michigan must be ready to play from the start.
“We all (need to) lock it in from pitch one,” Rennard said. “You’re supposed to be, and sometimes it doesn’t happen. So from pitch one having that mentality of being aggressive and not feel out the first inning.”