With two gone in the top of the ninth, Miles Lewis stepped up the to the plate. The redshirt sophomore left fielder knocked a single down the middle, but his base running was what gave Michigan the edge. He stole second base and the catcher’s throw was overthrown, allowing Lewis to advance to third. So when sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier ripped a two-out double down the right field line, Lewis scored easily to put the Wolverines up by one.
But the late heroics weren’t quite enough for the No. 16 Michigan baseball team (11-7 Big Ten, 36-11 overall), as Central Michigan had an explosive ninth inning and took the game, 4-3, with a walk-off double.
The Chippewas (13-5 Mid-American, 25-22 overall) were the first on the board. After second baseman Jason Sullivan singled through the first and second base gap on a ball that hit a bump and sailed over a diving Jake Bivens at first base, it brought up right fielder Daniel Robinson at the plate. Michigan freshman right fielder Christian Bullock barely moved as he realized Robinson’s hit would easily clear the right field wall for a two-run home run.
That put the Wolverines in a hole, which is unfamiliar territory for them.
At the beginning of the game, Michigan struggled to have quality at bats, let alone get a hit. Tuesday against Central Michigan, Michigan coach Erik Bakich worried that his team was being too defensive when on offense, and they continued that trend Wednesday.
“We have an approach where we want to only swing at balls we can drive with less than two strikes and I thought we got ourselves out a little bit,” Bakich said. “I thought offensively we could have taken better swings early in the count than some of the weak contact that was made early in the count.”
But the Wolverines broke out of their slump in the top of the fourth inning. Junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer recorded the first hit for Michigan with a single into shallow left field. With senior shortstop Michael Brdar taking a walk prior to Lugbauer’s at bat, that left two men on with only one out. A wild pitch advanced both runners and allowed Lewis to pick up an RBI with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, a fly out stranded the tying run on third base.
From then on, the contest became a pitcher’s dual. Junior right-hander Jayce Vancena continued his normal style of groundout pitching, but did give up three walks — prior to this outing, he hadn’t walked a batter all season.
“Sometimes you get liberal zones and tight zones. There were some borderline pitches.” Bakich said. “He had a decent outing and certainly gave us a chance, pitching into the sixth inning and holding them to only three hits and two runs. I thought he settled down nicely.”
Right-hander Cam Newton came in for the Chippewas in the fourth inning and had held Michigan to only one hit until Lugbauer struck again when he doubled past a diving Central Michigan first baseman and into right field.
That was the momentum the Wolverines needed to tie the game. Lewis followed Lugbauer with a walk, and Poirier bunted to try to advance Lugbauer and Lewis. Central Michigan decided to throw Lugbauer out at third base, eliminating the leadoff runner. Fortunately for Michigan, a double steal by Lewis and Poirier made the Wolverines a threat once again. Sophomore second baseman Jimmy Kerr then squeeze bunted to score Lewis and level the game.
With the score knotted at 2-2, the Wolverines had to rely on the bullpen to keep them in the game. The Chippewas threatened to retake the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. Halfway through the inning, Michigan brought in senior right-hander Keith Lehmann with two men on base. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Central Michigan tried to double steal and the leadoff man was thrown out at third base.
Lehmann did manage to load the bases, though, with only one out. But the righty came up big with a strikeout and pop up to end the inning.
At the risk of going into extra innings, both teams appeared anxious to end the game. But in the end, it was Central Michigan who finished the job.
Two men were on base, no outs and an 0-2 count awaited junior left-hander Austin Batka when he took over the mound. Things appeared to be going well for Michigan as Batka struck out a batter with a single pitch. The Wolverines even managed to record another out on a bunt, but that brought shortstop Alex Borglin to the plate. He crushed a deep ball to right field that landed on the warning track, and it was enough to bring two men home and end the game.
At this time last year, Michigan dropped nine of its last 11 games, ending its post-season hopes. If the Wolverines wish to avoid the same downfall, they will need to make some offensive adjustments before they finish off regular season Big Ten play.