When Iowa’s Ben Norman hit a chopper toward third base on Sunday, junior infielder Blake Nelson was tasked with making the routine throw to first to end the inning and push the game into extras.
However, Nelson’s throw went wayward and Norman reached the base.
With the winning run on first, the Wolverines made a pitching change. After a little over three innings of work, junior left-hander William Tribucher’s day was done. Surehanded freshman Jeff Criswell then stepped onto the mound.
Five pitches later, he walked off it disappointed, as the Hawkeyes (9-7 Big Ten, 26-14 overall) celebrated their 7-5 win over Michigan (12-2 Big Ten, 25-13 overall) thanks to a two-run walkoff homer.
“Today we made some uncharacteristic mistakes that cost us the game," said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. "When you’re on the road, facing a good team, you can maybe get away with a mistake here or there. But when you have too many of them, a team like Iowa, or any good team, will make it hurt.”
Although a loss Friday afternoon had already ended the Wolverines’ 20-game win streak, Iowa’s walk off on the last game of the weekend meant they had also dropped the series.
Like Sunday, Friday’s game was also highly contested. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 4-0 lead after four innings due to an uncharacteristic showing by sophomore lefthander Tommy Henry and a slow start for the Michigan offense.
Although Henry registered five strikeouts in only four innings, he also left too many pitches over the plate. Iowa's batters then capitalized on these pitches with ease. Senior righthander Alec Rennard came in following Henry’s departure and kept Michigan in the game with a solid one-hit outing.
“I didn’t think Tommy pitched poorly necessarily,” Bakich said. “I thought they had a good approach off of him. They took what he gave them and used the entire field. They just did a decent job. Rennard came in there and did a nice job holding them down and eating a lot of innings for us.”
The Wolverines finally put a couple of runs on the board via an RBI single from sophomore outfielder Christian Bullock in the fifth inning and a sacrifice fly by freshman Jesse Franklin in the eighth. The Iowa pitching staff largely kept the Michigan bats at bay though and sealed a narrow 4-2 victory in their favor, giving Henry his first loss of the season.
Saturday's game was a different story. With the burden of the win streak off of it’s shoulders, Michigan brought a more relaxed demeanor to the field.
Iowa scored its only two runs in the first inning. After the rough start, Freshman lefthander Ben Dragani rebounded, allowing just three hits over the course of the next five innings.
“Off of Ben, they hit a two-run home run in the first inning and that was pretty much it,” Bakich said. “He put up zeros after that. He did a good job of escaping jams and keeping them off balance and off base.”
The Wolverine offense was also firing on all cylinders after a dormant first inning. Franklin hit his ninth homer of the year, while junior outfielder Johnathan Engelmann and second baseman Ako Thomas each delivered two RBI performances. However, the real offense star was freshman left fielder Jordan Nwogu. The first-year, whose heroics against Bowling Green in mid-March catapulted Michigan into its win streak, posted a career-high four hits as the Wolverines tied the series with a 10-2 win.
On Sunday, Michigan looked to carry over Saturday’s momentum and begin a new win streak. Early on it looked as though they were doing just that.
A three-run shot by sophomore Dom Clementi in the first inning and an RBI double by freshman infielder Jack Blomgren propelled the Wolverines to a 5-0 start. The bats then fell silent as the game progressed, and Iowa’s offense gradually cut into the lead one run at a time during the middle innings. Like the rest of the team, sophomore starter Karl Kauffman started off strong but faltered a bit toward the end of his outing, giving up three runs in the third and fourth innings. Two of the runs came off of a two-run shot by Iowa’s Austin Guzzo.
Michigan was punished again in the seventh inning when Tribucher regretfully hung a ball a little too far over the plate. The batter seized the opportunity in front of him where the wind then aided the hard hit ball over the fence to tie the game at five. The rest was history.
“Everybody’s pissed right now,” Bakich said. “They saw an opportunity that we didn’t cash in on. We had the opportunity to win the series on the road against a good team and we didn’t do it. It was ours for the taking and we gave it away. That’s the feeling right now. With that being said, we’re a pretty tough bunch. Resilient for sure. We’ve been knocked down before and the good thing is we don’t have wait very long to get into another fight.”