If the No. 18 Michigan baseball team learned anything from Friday’s comeback win over Illinois, it was to come out strong from the first pitch.
The Wolverines put that lesson into practice in the second game of their series against the Fighting Illini (0-5 Big Ten, 10-18 overall), as Michigan sent seven Wolverines up to bat and scored three runs in the first inning alone en route to a 7-0 victory.
Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas reached base first from the leadoff spot, hitting a slow rolling ball to the shortstop and beating the throw to first. Though he was later thrown out at the plate, his hit started the ball rolling for the rest of the lineup. Redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis smacked a double to the corner of left field, scoring senior shortstop Michael Brdar and senior centerfielder Johnny Slater.
The Wolverines (6-2, 25-6) are currently 12-0 when leading after the first inning, a big incentive to strike early.
“We talked about the last two games and playing from a deficit and digging ourselves a hole,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “If that’s the case, that’s the case, we’ll do it if we need to, but it’s not exactly how you want to draw it up.
“We wanted to get a good lead and establish a lead and try to extend it.”
Michigan kept up its scoring in the next inning, when junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer singled to centerfield and picked up two runs batted-in to give him 41 on the season — increasing his lead atop the Big Ten.
On the mound for the Wolverines was junior right-hander Ryan Nutof, who had one of his best outings of the season. He allowed only one hit through six scoreless innings. Nutof had been struggling the most out of the weekend starters — posting a 5.84 earned-run average — but he was sharp on the bump against Illinois.
“We walked a few early, had to pitch out of some pressure situations early,” Bakich said. “But as the game progressed, Ryan Nutof in the fourth, fifth and sixth was better than he was in the first, second and third.
“And then (junior right-hander) Jayce Vancena followed his lead and so did (sophomore right-hander) Jack Bredeson of just attacking the strike zone and letting the defense work behind them.”
Vancena and Bredeson rounded out the pitching effort for Michigan on Saturday, contributing to the one-hitter — a feat the Wolverines haven’t accomplished since 2012.
The Fighting Illini posed the biggest threat to Michigan in the third inning. Third baseman Trent Hammond got the team’s first — and only — hit of the day with a double to left field. With a runner in scoring position, Thomas denied Illinois' Jack Yalowitz with a diving stop.
When Nutof later walked a Fighting Illini batter to load the bases, Thomas came up clutch once again with an easy putout to first to end the inning.
After putting up five runs through the first two innings, the Wolverines cooled down for the rest of the game. Michigan tacked on two more runs in the sixth and eighth innings to extend its lead, and Illinois couldn’t come up with a response.
All but two of the Wolverine batters managed a hit, with Thomas and Slater leading the team with four and three, respectively. Both singled each time from the one and two slots, respectively, in the batting order. Their ability to reach base is crucial for Michigan.
“Anytime you can get the top of your order on base, those guys are table setters, they’re catalysts,” Bakich said. “Especially those two because they can get in motion and advance into scoring position, so anytime we get them on base we create scoring opportunities.”
The Wolverines have now won nine straight games and will look to continue their streak in the series finale Sunday afternoon.