So far this season, the Michigan baseball team’s offense has driven its success. The Wolverines poured in a staggering 17 runs during the first half of last Saturday’s double-header and erupted later that afternoon for a comeback victory.
However, despite losing in extras on Friday and allowing six runs during Saturday’s second game, Michigan’s pitching staff was excellent in crunch time. After the fourth inning of each game, they surrendered one run to Penn State.
“We have been pitching and playing defense consistently,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “It’s just about competing pitch to pitch.”
During the first game on Friday, redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar faced trouble early, allowing two runs in the bottom of the second inning. After that, though, he was nearly unhittable. The Nittany Lions mustered only two more baserunners against Hajjar and let Michigan’s bats make up the deficit.
“Steve is very consistent. He put us in a position to win, he got us to the seventh inning,” Bakich said. “He pitched out of some big jams. He set the tone that a Friday night pitcher needs to set.”
While the Wolverines eventually lost on a walk-off single in the 10th off of junior right-hander Willie Weiss, their bullpen held the Nittany Lions scoreless in the three innings prior.
Game two did not begin well for Michigan’s starter, sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston, either. He gave up one run in the first inning and blew a three-run lead in the fourth. But, like Hajjar in the first game, he was dominant afterward, holding Penn State off the board for his final two innings.
Bakich then turned the ball over to redshirt junior right-hander Isaiah Paige and, eventually, to freshman left-hander Connor O’Halloran. They gave up a combined one hit, but their contributions were overshadowed by an explosive 17-run effort from the offense.
“It preserves our bullpen, it minimizes the other team,” Bakich said. “To have a guy like (Weston) that’s usually very efficient with his pitches, even though he got into some trouble early in his outing, he found a way to recover and settle the game down.”
Michigan has seen varying results with its staff in the previous series. Against Michigan State, the staff was solid in a losing effort. The next game, they let up seven runs but the bats carried them to the win.
Versus Illinois it was much of the same. In game one, they faltered. In game two, they were brilliant.
Penn State jumped ahead early in the third game, quickly erasing a one-run deficit. The Nittany Lions hit well against senior right-hander Blake Beers from the start, forcing him out of the game after two and two-third innings and five earned runs. Redshirt junior left-hander Ben Dragani came in relief, but, like Beers, he did not find success against Penn State. Bakich then turned to sophomore left-hander Jacob Denner, who kept the Wolverines in the game. He went five innings and surrendered only one earned run.
“There’s no safe score in college baseball anymore, regardless of what the scoreboard is, whether we’re up or down,” Bakich said. “I think college baseball is filled with high-level competitors. We know how quickly the score can change.”
In addition to Denner’s performance, Weiss redeemed himself, posting two scoreless frames. The Wolverines would go on to win that game in 10 innings, with Weiss recording the win.
“At this level, all the players are good, and all the teams are good,” Bakich said. “There really isn’t any lack of belief if we’re trailing and there isn’t any complacency if we’re ahead.”
With Michigan’s knack for clutch hitting, the depth of steady arms in the bullpen is reassuring. That consistency should serve the Wolverines well throughout their Big Ten schedule.