Every action mattered now. Rutgers had scored in the eighth inning to tie the game, 1-1, and neither Michigan nor the Scarlet Knights seemed capable of conjuring offense on Sunday.
But when junior center fielder Jordan Brewer stole second base in the tenth inning and Serafino Brito hit sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren to put two runners on the diamond with two outs, what happened next was inevitable.
Sophomore catcher Joe Donovan hit a three run, walk-off home run that was gone as soon as it left the bat. Michigan (31-11 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) won 4-1 over Rutgers (17-24 overall, 7-8 Big Ten) for the series sweep.
“I was just trying to get to a good pitch to try and get Brewer in,” Donovan said. “I was swinging pretty hard, but I was just trying to shorten up a little to go up the middle and get a run in, not anything special. I was lucky that it caught the barrel and it went over.”
Michigan’s offense overcame a struggling start in the third inning. After sophomore left fielder Jordan Nwogu had his second four pitch walk of the game and sophomore designated hitter Jesse Franklin got a free pass, too, the Wolverines got their first hit of the game in the form of a double from junior centerfielder Jordan Brewer to score a run and take a 1-0 lead.
It was a blip on the radar for Tevin Murray. The left-hander continued to give Michigan very few scoring opportunities. During the bottom of the fifth, the Wolverines managed to put runners on first and second, only to see third baseman Carmen Sclafani make a great play to control the fast moving ball and get the force out at third.
“They made some really good plays today,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Their shortstop was out of his mind today, so where they had given us some baserunners in the first two games, they played very very well defensively. So, we had to earn it. They pitched well, too, games like this come down to one swing, one play, one pitch.”
Still, Michigan forced Murray’s pitch count to skyrocket and forced the left hander out of the game in the seventh inning.
But while Murray struggled with his pitch count, sophomore right-hander Jeff Criswell limited his pitches to a measly 88 pitches in 7.2 innings. He carried a no-hitter through six innings before a single to left field ended the bid.
Throughout the game Criswell’s mid-90s fastball stumped opposing batters and as soon as they got used to it, he confused batters with a curveball. Only totaling three strikeouts, though, he let his defense make plays.
“(Rutgers was) putting a lot of the balls in play and the defense made some great plays really consistently so they just really kept me in the game,” Criswell said. “… As a pitching staff we just try to attack the zone and fill up the strike zone, good things happen when you do that. That’s what I tried to do today.”
Added Bakich: “(Criswell) did a really good job, especially the first six innings of the game of getting ahead of their hitters. It was strike one, strike two, and just did a really nice job of making big pitches, letting our defense work, working fast, making strikes.”
In the eighth inning, things fell apart for Criswell. A leadoff single from Tyler McNamara and a poor defensive choice on a bunt to try and get McNamara out at second would put two runners on base with no outs. A passed ball later, and McNamara was in a perfect position to score off a sacrifice fly and tie the game at one.
After allowing a double and a walk, Criswell’s day was over. His demeanor had changed from methodically dominating batters, to being visually distraught at some of his pitches.
On came freshman left-hander Willie Weiss, who walked a batter and went down 3-and-0 on the next before battling back with three straight called strikes for the out and to limit the damage to just one run.
“That’s not how you draw it up,” Bakich said. “He looked shaky there those first eight pitches with seven of them being balls. But to his credit he looked like a veteran guy out there, just found the zone when he needed to and made the big pitches when he needed to.”
It was a vital bounce back, keeping the Wolverines in the game. Two innings later, Donovan walked up to the plate and won the game.