It was the bottom of the ninth inning, the bases were loaded and there were two outs. Senior centerfielder Johnny Slater stepped up to the plate and tried to help his team overcome the three-run deficit. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, he struck out swinging.
The Michigan men’s baseball team faced Northern Illinois on Saturday afternoon, but couldn’t overcome the Huskies early lead and fell, 8-5.
The Wolverines had the chance to steal the game, but their late comeback effort wasn’t enough. Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas tacked on the first run of the inning after redshirt sophomore leftfielder Miles Lewis singled to center.
That was the offensive spark the team needed to get the rally going. Five more players came up to bat and made it on base, scoring two more runs. But in the end, it was just too little too late.
“If there was a team that could come back down six it was this team,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We had the tying run on first base, the winning run at the plate, we just came up a little short.”
It was a dream start for Northern Illinois. Junior right-hander Ryan Nutof was on the mound for Michigan, and the Huskies hit a double off the very first pitch. The second batter up hit a triple after sophomore right fielder Nick Poirier dove to make the catch but instead the ball rolled passed him.
Northern Illinois singled and hit a double off the left field wall to score two more runs. Nutof managed to get out of the inning with minimal damage done.
“I think the main thing is to take that same energy that we had in the bottom of the ninth and apply that and keep that going form the start of the game to the end of the second game,” Lewis said. “If we do that, I think we’ll come out on top.”
It’s not the first time that the Wolverines have fallen behind early and been forced to come back, but normally they can rely on their prolific offense. Though on Saturday, Michigan struggled to get hits, let alone connect multiple in a row.
The Wolverines didn’t get their first hit until the third inning with a double from Thomas. But after junior first baseman Jake Bivens hit a line drive directly at the pitcher, it appeared everyone assumed he was unable to make the play and tried to advance.
But when he picked up the ball, Poirier had to run back to third, forcing Thomas to run back to second. The Huskies made a double play, throwing out Thomas and Bivens to end the inning.
It didn’t take long for Northern Illinois to strike again. In the top of the fifth inning, Mike Roberson hit a 3-run homerun to put the Huskies up 7-0.
Sophomore designated hitter Jimmy Kerr tried to counteract Northern Illinois’ momentum by leading off with a triple to left field. Slater brought him home with a sacrifice fly to centerfield to put Michigan on the board.
Michigan loaded the bases, but couldn’t muster a hit when it needed it the most.
The Wolverines pulled Nutof in the fourth inning after only two strikeouts and allowing seven runs. Sophomore left-hander William Tribucher came into relieve him and allowed three hits and one run to score.
When Michigan’s offense is rolling, it can afford to have some pitching woes. However, if the bats aren’t hot, the Wolverines will need to be able to fall back on their defense.