Tuesday night’s matchup between the No. 16 Michigan baseball team and Eastern Michigan made their previous matchup seem like a distant memory.
The previous defensive slugfest, a 2-1 win in 13 innings, was put in the past, and the Wolverines (40-12 overall, 14-7 Big Ten) rallied for a 12-4 victory.
“A form of toughness and being gritty and the things we talk about are being able to compete as hard as you can every game you play, regardless of if it's in or out of conference,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “You got an opportunity to play, an opportunity to compete, a tough team is able to line up and go as hard and fast as they can with their best effort and best intent.”
The Eagles (21-32 overall, 12-9 Mid-American) were the first to strike in the second inning when senior centerfielder Johnny Slater made an error and allowed John Montgomery to reach second base. It was followed by another double that went underneath junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer’s legs. Another line drive to centerfield would tack on another run for Eastern Michigan, but the Wolverines managed to escape with just a 2-0 deficit.
Fortunately for Michigan, it made up for its defensive mishaps by tying the game in the bottom of the second inning. Redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis notched the first hit — his first of four on the day — of the inning with a single to a diving second baseman. Sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier followed Lewis with a bouncing ball that sailed just over the head of the second baseman, earning Poirier a single and a run batted-in. A sacrifice fly would later bring Poirier home to level the game.
It appeared the game was going to stay close, especially when Eastern Michigan added another run in the third inning with a solo home run over the left field wall. After giving up four hits and three runs in just 11 batters faced, junior right-hander Jayce Vancena was replaced by sophomore left-hander William Tribucher.
Tribucher faired much better than Vancena, giving up just two hits and earning five strikeouts through four innings. His stellar work on the bump propelled the offense to follow suit.
Impacting the game the most was Lewis. He went 4-for-5 with two doubles to right field and two singles — earning him three runs and an RBI.
“Just being confident out there,” Lewis said. “Just attacking the ball instead of letting the ball attack you. …That’s the thing that kind of clicked for me tonight.”
Lewis wasn’t the only one leaving his mark on the game as four other Wolverines managed two hits each. Sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann garnered a hit and an RBI with one swing of the bat as he had a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning — his second of the season. The Eagles’ left fielder clearly thought the ball was foul, but after Eastern Michigan’s coach had a word with the umpire, the call stood as it was.
Michigan managed to score in five of the eight innings where they were on offense, and the sixth inning was the most eventful. Five batters stepped up to the plate before Eastern Michigan could record an out, and four more runs were added by the end of the inning.
With the Wolverines up 12-3, it allowed them some room to make defensive changes. Five non-starters saw the field against the Eagles and freshman outfielder Dominic Clementi and junior catcher Brock Keener both notched a hit to improve their batting averages to .474 and .429, respectively.
While the victory against the Eagles means the Wolverines have reached 40 wins — something that hasn’t the program hasn't accomplished since 2008 — it doesn’t mean they are stopping.
“It’s not a landing spot. It’s something to catapult off from, keep moving, keep growing, keep getting better,” Bakich said. “It’s been a season where the words ‘Pleased, but not satisfied’ have been said a lot and ‘Finished strong’ has been said even more than that.”