Despite late scare, Michigan secures its first sweep of the season behind Dragani’s seven stellar innings

Sunday, March 18, 2018 - 6:25pm

Michigan coach Erik Bakich praised his starting pitcher's toughness in his debut.

Michigan coach Erik Bakich praised his starting pitcher's toughness in his debut. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

Ben Dragani didn’t learn he’d be getting his first career start over the weekend series until Thursday night. Anxiety soon crept in for the freshman left-hander as he readied himself for the Wolverines (7-11 overall) matchup against Bowling Green (3-16).

“I was a little nervous,” Dragani said. “I kinda didn’t know what to expect. I kinda had to talk to some other guys to get the routine down, but I just I fell back on what I did in high school.”

But those nerves did not show whatsoever, as Dragani dominated in the Wolverines’ 5-4 victory, with six strikeouts, five hits allowed, no earned runs and no walks in seven innings of work.

Dragani ­­­— who began the season as a relief pitcher — got off to a hot start with a 1-2-3 first inning.

With two outs in the second inning, after two Falcon singles, a pitch got away from senior catcher Brock Keener allowing the runner on second base to advance to third. On the very next pitch, the Bowling Green batter poked a ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman to score the game’s first run — the only run Dragani would allow.

After giving up two singles but no runs in the third, Dragani locked in, registering four straight 1-2-3 innings from the fourth through seventh innings.

“He’s a competitor, he’s very efficient in his pitches: no walks, no hi- by-pitches, very few three-ball counts,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I think it was 81 pitches in seven innings … it’s just hard to do. He’s got multiple off-speed pitches for strikes, including a swing-and-miss change up. I see him in our weekend rotation.”

Freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu — who went 3-4 with two RBIs and a double — knocked what would turn out to be the game-winning hit, as he ripped a two-RBI single passed the outstretched glove of the Bowling Green third baseman to give Michigan the 5-1 lead.

“At 2-0 I knew he has to throw a fastball,” Nwogu said. “I kind of smiled; I looked at him and was like, ‘you’re throwing a fastball,’ and I hit the ball.”

Nwogu, who made his first three career starts in each game of the series, absolutely dominated the Bowling Green pitching staff, going 7-11 with eight RBIs, two doubles and a home run over the series.  

With Dragani cruising and the Wolverines holding a 5-1 lead after seven innings, a victory seemed imminent. Dragani, however, far surpassed his season-high pitch count, so Bakich made the decision to go to the pen.

“It was the longest he had been in all season by far, so if we’re going to build him into a starter we can’t blow him out his first career start,” Bakich said.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jack Weisenburger came on in relief for the eighth inning and immediately struggled.

The first four batters Weisenburger faced all reached base, capped by a two-run double. Bakich decided to make another call to the bullpen. Enter junior left-handed pitcher William Tribucher.

Coming in with 12 strikeouts and just three earned runs in 10.2 innings of work, Tribucher faced runners on second and third base with no outs.

The first two batters reached on a throwing error on a ground ball and a miscommunication on a bunt, respectively. Then with the bases loaded, no outs and only a one run lead, Tribucher flipped a switch. Three straight strikeouts later, the inning was over, and the Wolverines still held a one-run lead.

“That’s toughness right there,” Bakich said. “You come into a situation, you’re already in a storm, and the first batter you face is safe on an error, the next guy drops a bunt down and we don’t collect an out on a bunt, so now, all of the sudden, you’re in a bigger storm.

“A guy who maybe lacks toughness or lets doubt creep in or fear of giving up a lot of runs probably does just exactly that, gives up a lot of runs. He didn’t. He just looked like he stuck his chest out, pinned his ears back and said ‘Alright enough of this.’ ”

In the ninth inning, after giving up a walk to the first better, Tribucher came right back, striking out the next two batters he faced, inducing an easy ground ball to the shortstop for the final out.

Michigan had secured the series sweep.