In the sixth inning of the Michigan baseball team’s game Sunday, freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu miscalculated and decided to go for the catch. He missed — and crashed into the wall, allowing the Delaware hitter to secure a double.
In the seventh inning, as Michigan held a one-run lead, Blue Hens second baseman Erik Bowren launched a fly ball to deep left field over Nwogu’s head. This time, though, instead of going for the catch, Nwogu played the ball off the brick wall and fired a bullet to junior second baseman Ako Thomas, who tagged the runner out.
“When he made that play, I thought to myself … the kid who showed up here in September would’ve never been able to make that play,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “(In September he) would’ve never had the arm strength to make that play, would have never had the savvy to play the ball off the wall, like he did.”
Spurred by Nwogu’s big play, the Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 16-11 overall) would go on to take a 4-2 win over Delaware (13-12 overall) and clinch a series sweep for the third straight weekend.
Nwogu’s play was the epitome of the transformation that Michigan has experienced ever since its 12-game win streak began. The defense, which had been one of the Wolverines’ biggest weaknesses early on, appears much improved.
Through March 14, before the win streak began, Michigan averaged nearly two errors a game. During the streak, though, the Wolverines are averaging just 1.33 errors a game.
“You can see them start to improvise and (make) some really athletic plays,” Bakich said. “Early in the year, we didn’t have that. We were in more of a questioning and a doubtful state of mind, unsure of (ourselves).
“… We’re still growing, we’re still getting better, we’re still needing to improve on some physical aspects of our game, but mentally I really like the improvements that we have made and that’s gonna be most important for this team as we continue to move forward.”
The vast improvement in defense has opened up other aspects of the Wolverines’ game. According to Bakich, the defensive growth is a sign of the team’s increased confidence.
Freshman right-hander Jeff Criswell reaffirmed Bakich’s emphasis on the defensive improvement and explained that strong play in the field helps him as a pitcher.
“One of the most prevalent things I think for our team is just the solid defense that we’ve had,” Criswell said. “Day in and day out these guys work as hard as they can and it’s really showing on the field. It’s just been awesome to see. It’s a good feeling to have the defense back you up and to have trust in them because it makes your job a lot easier as a pitcher.”
Since the win streak began, Michigan’s pitching staff has posted a 2.33 team earned run average and this weekend saw its best overall performance yet, as it allowed just two earned runs in the three-game series.
“It’s just been that over and over and over again, guys making big pitches and guys behind us making big plays,” Criswell said. “It’s been a really fun thing to be a part of. It’s a fun group and I think there’s only good things to come.”
If the Wolverines can maintain the level of excellence their pitching rotation and defensive unit have displayed over the win streak, they are going to be a tough team to beat in a fairly weak Big Ten.