Big game success: A look at how Michigan flipped the script

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 6:38pm

Sophomore outfielder Jordan Nwogu lit a spark in the Michigan baseball team with his walk-off hit against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.

Sophomore outfielder Jordan Nwogu lit a spark in the Michigan baseball team with his walk-off hit against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

The past two weeks, the Michigan baseball team has captured the attention of every college baseball fan in the country as it’s made a run to the College World Series.

At first, though, it wasn’t even clear the Wolverines would make the tournament; they had barely avoided an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament with a walk-off double from Jordan Nwogu, and before that, they had relinquished the Big Ten regular season title in two straight series losses to Indiana and Nebraska.

They weren’t playing well, they were tight and showing a weakness for big time games.

“You don’t play baseball well when you’re stressed,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich after the series at Nebraska. “So we’re going into this weekend loose, confident and relaxed.”

It was a common thread throughout their season that big games were their weakness, especially in April after disappointing series losses at Ohio State, Texas Tech (who they will play this Saturday) and in California.

Until May 20, in a game against No. 20 Illinois, it wasn’t clear whether Michigan would show up in the big moments.

Then there was Nwogu’s big hit, and the next day, there was life in a team that looked despondent in the days before.

The Wolverines won their next game against Maryland, almost guaranteeing their spot in the NCAA tournament.

Throughout the year, Michigan beat itself more than anyone else. Errors, walks and bad baserunning would all converge on the same day and give opponents easy victories. Four errors, two hit-by-pitches and three walks gifted a game to the Hoosiers. Four errors and nine walks resulted in an 11-2 loss to the Red Raiders.

Even last Saturday against No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regionals, the Wolverines had five crucial errors and 10 walks while three of the five Bruin runs were unearned.

But for the most part in the last two weeks, Michigan has played lights out, no longer weighed down by self-inflicted pressure. It has gotten the clutch hits when it needed to and hasn’t been crushed by the big time lights.

“What I’d like us to do better is continue to trend upwards when we have setbacks like this, to use it as growth and fuel to better our performance in the future,” Bakich said after the series at Ohio State. “If we’re going to be the team that I think we’re going to be, then we’re going to have to play well when it means the most and a rivalry series is one of those weekends when it means the most.”

Apparently the Wolverines needed to see a clutch hit to believe it and when Nwogu launched a double against the Illini, they bought in and have finally grown to their true potential.