Ako Thomas has been terrorizing college pitchers for four seasons now. The senior infielder led Michigan and the Big Ten in hitting and slugging in 2017 with a .354 batting average and a .396 slugging percentage. He’s knocked in game-winning runs in walk-off victories and matched his career-high of three hits in multiple games.
But through all of that, one thing still eluded him: a home run.
That changed on Friday when Thomas knocked one out of the park in the first at-bat of the seventeenth-ranked Wolverines’ three-game series against California State University-Northridge. Michigan won two out of the three games on the weekend, beating the Matadors 2-0 on Friday and 4-2 in the first contest of a doubleheader on Sunday, but suffered their first loss of the season in the second game, falling to Northridge 5-2.
“We’ve got that next-pitch mentality going forward,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We’re not going to dwell on this last game. We just need to execute better in the opportunities that we have in the next game.”
Despite the loss, though, the Wolverines’ attitude remains positive as they head into their next series of their California swing, a two-game series at California State University Long Beach that will start on Tuesday. Though the offense was less productive at times this weekend than in its first two series of the season, they were also facing a much stronger pitching staff, so walking away with a series win was a confidence booster for the team, according to Bakich.
Michigan’s pitchers continued to dominate opposing lineups this weekend against a Matador offense that entered the series among national leaders in offense and home runs.
Junior left-hander Tommy Henry held Northridge scoreless over eight innings of three-hit baseball on Friday, striking out 12 batters before freshman right-hander Willie Weiss came on in the ninth to record his second save of the season and of his collegiate career. The Wolverines also got another quality start out of junior right-hander Karl Kauffman, who allowed just three hits in seven innings of work in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
“The quality starts that we got from Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman continue to be a standout for us,” Bakich said. “It’s great to see their hard work paying off. They certainly give us a chance to win the series and get off each weekend to a good start.”
Michigan’s power hitting also showed improvement this weekend. Thomas’ home run was one of three over the course of the series. The other two came from sophomore outfielder Jesse Franklin, who knocked in a three-run blast in Sunday’s first game, and senior infielder Jimmy Kerr, who sent a shot to left-center in the ninth inning of the second game on Sunday.
As they head into the series against Long Beach on Tuesday, and the Dodgertown Classic, where they will face No. 4 UCLA, No. 19 Oklahoma State and USC, next weekend, the Wolverines will look to continue to hit for power.
“We definitely have the ability to hit for more power this year,” Bakich said. “It is something that we have worked on and will continue to work on. We’ll continue to preach it all the time: look for pitches that you can smash.”