The Michigan baseball team put on a pristine pitching performance this weekend against Ohio State. Junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie hurled a complete-game shutout Friday, while junior right-hander Alec Rennard led an 11-strikeout effort the next day. And at first, Sunday was more of the same.
Junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson had cruised through the first five innings, striking out seven. But he gave up a one-out single to Buckeye third baseman Brady Cherry to load the bases in the sixth. Sophomore left-hander William Tribucher jogged out from the bullpen to face designated hitter Zach Ratcliff, looking to preserve a 2-0 lead for the Wolverines.
Just two pitches later, the lead was gone.
Ratcliff jumped on a 1-0 pitch and drove it far over the left-field wall for a grand slam, giving the Buckeyes (18-29 overall, 6-12 Big Ten) a lead they would not relinquish, as No. 17 Michigan (35-11, 11-7) dropped the final game of the three-game series.
Hendrickson took his time to settle into the game, allowing Ohio State shortstop Jalen Washington to reach third base in the first inning, and later surrendering two straight singles to lead off the second. But with two strikeouts and a flyout, Hendrickson avoided an early deficit, and was dominant for the next three frames.
“He did a good job of attacking the bottom of the strike zone after it looked a little shaky the first couple of innings,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Then he got his fastball command and started using his slider as a putaway pitch, even used his changeup, plus he had his curveball working. It really became a four-pitch mix after the second inning.”
Meanwhile, Ohio State right-hander Seth Kinker, who typically closes games for the Buckeyes, made his first career start. He seemed to have little problems adjusting to the new role, however, as he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning.
“Where the game was at that point, that guy was doing a good job of throwing his slider at any time and his fastball in a lot,” Bakich said. “We needed to put pressure on them in another way.”
The Wolverines found another way in the fifth inning, implementing “small-ball” tactics –primarily bunting – to great success.
Redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis was hit by a pitch to lead off, and sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier dropped a bunt single down the third-base line. Sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann’s bunt moved both runners over, and sophomore second baseman Jimmy Kerr scored Lewis with an infield single. Senior catcher Harrison Wenson then brought home another run with a well-executed squeeze bunt towards first base. Without the ball having ever left the infield, Michigan had taken a two-run lead.
“We’ve been able to win games in a variety of ways all season,” Bakich said. “We haven’t had to utilize small-ball very much, but it’s certainly in our arsenal. So we had to bring it out and it worked.”
But the next inning, the Buckeyes responded to the Wolverines’ small-ball strategy with “big-ball” – loading the bases in anticipation of a big hit. And just as Michigan did, Ohio State executed to perfection.
The Wolverines were far from out of it, however. Senior right-handers Mac Lozer and Jackson Lamb kept the Buckeyes off the board in the eighth and ninth innings, combining for six strikeouts between them.
“We were calm,” said senior shortstop Michael Brdar. “We knew we were going to put some guys on base and have an opportunity to tie the game up and go ahead.”
That opportunity came with two outs in the eighth inning. Brdar singled to right-center, and junior third basman Drew Lugbauer ripped a shot into almost the exact same spot for a double. Lewis was again hit by a pitch, and Poirier stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the crowd of 2,545 at Ray Fisher Stadium – the highest attendance total of the season – on its feet.
But the threat ended, as Poirier harmlessly popped out to short. Ohio State right-hander Adam Niemeyer then retired the Wolverines in order the next inning to spoil their chance to sweep their rivals.
“We had two chances there,” Brdar said. “But sometimes baseball happens.”