The contest didn’t go as well as the last time the No. 16 Michigan baseball team faced Central Michigan, but the Wolverines managed to narrowly escape with a 4-2 victory.
The two teams’ last meeting was back on March 29 when Michigan blew out the Chippewas, 13-4. That matchup was highlighted by offensive prowess from the Wolverines, as all their starters reached base and they notched 15 hits.
Tuesday’s win looked very different. The Wolverines had just five hits on the day, compared to Central Michigan’s eight.
“They’re a much better team from the first time we played them the last time,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It’s a deep lineup, it’s a good offensive team. … That’s a team that’s making some noise right now in the (Mid-American Conference) and they’re playing well on the weekends, they’re going to compete for a championship. You can tell they’ve got some confidence.”
While Central Michigan wasn’t leading for long, it was the first to strike in the third inning. The inning appeared to be going well for the Wolverines, when senior centerfielder Johnny Slater threw out second baseman Jason Sullivan when he tried to reach second base on his hit to right-center. But after junior right-hander Ryan Nutof hit the next batter, allowed a single and had an errant throw to try and pick off the runner on first, the Chippewas easily scored the first run.
It didn’t take long for Michigan to respond, though, as it recorded three runs in the fourth frame.
Continuing his hot streak as of late, Slater smacked a leadoff double to centerfield and rolled into second base on his feet. A groundout by senior shortstop Michael Brdar brought him just 90 feet away from tying to game. Junior catcher Drew Lugbauer had great success against Central Michigan back in March, picking up three runs batted-in and three hits, and continued that Tuesday night. He singled to center to bring Slater across the plate.
While Lugbauer had a good night, notching two more singles with hard hit, line drives to centerfield in the sixth and eighth innings, it was sophomore infielder Jimmy Kerr who picked up the game winning RBIs. He crushed a line drive to centerfield, scoring Lugbauer and redshirt sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis.
The Chippewas weren’t done, though. While they didn’t manage to pull off the victory, they did give Michigan a scare at the end. In the top of the ninth inning, Central Michigan mustered a walk and a single and found itself with men on second and third base with two outs. Unfortunately for the Chippewas, right fielder Daniel Robinson couldn’t bring them home and popped up to left field.
Both sides struggled offensively due to impressive pitching by both staffs. But in the end, Central Michigan couldn’t compete with the Wolverine pitching staff’s eight strikeouts and just four walks, compared to the Chippewa staff’’s three strikeouts and six walks. Nutof picked up the win to improve to 5-2 on the season.
The two teams will complete their home-and-home series Wednesday night in Mount Pleasant, and Michigan will need to make some adjustments to its offense if it wants to start peaking before the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the month.
“It was very sticky there, a lot of pressure situations we had to work our way out of,” Bakich said. “I thought the pitching carried us today. I thought we were a little defensive for offense, which you want to be on the attack offensively and I thought we maybe didn’t have our best offensive day from a mentality and approach standpoint.”