Early runs launch Wolverines past Rutgers

Friday, April 26, 2019 - 9:02pm

Michigan outfielder Jordan Nwogu scored on the first Wolverines' at-bat.

Michigan outfielder Jordan Nwogu scored on the first Wolverines' at-bat. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

In the first inning against Rutgers, sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu hit a lead-off home run that touched the moon. Two batters later, junior outfielder Jordan Brewer hit a 106-mile per hour laser to put Michigan up 3-0.

The Scarlet Knights' Harry Rutkowski was shell-shocked.

“I just try to put the ball in play, get on base,” said Nwogu. “That’s my job, I’m batting leadoff and that’s kind of been what I’ve been trying to do. I got down two strikes early, I was just trying to foul it off and get back in the at-bat. I just got a ball in the air on a windy day.”

From then on out, the Wolverines' chances continued to rack up, eventually giving Michigan (29-11 overall, 9-3 Big Ten) an 8-3 victory over Rutgers (17-22 overall, 7-6 Big Ten).

During the fourth inning, Michigan proved it didn’t need home runs to score as well.

After a double to start the inning from sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin and a single from Brewer to put runners on the corners, senior first-baseman Jimmy Kerr hit a single to score one run and advance Brewer all the way to third. Brewer then scored his second run of the game after sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren hit into a double play.

The Wolverines weren’t done, though. Senior third baseman Blake Nelson reached off of a Scarlet Knights' error from their shortstop and stole second — a launching pad for him to come home off of a single down the left field line from sophomore catcher Joe Donovan, putting Michigan up 7-0. For Rutkowski, that was the last pitch he would throw on a dismal day when he allowed 11 hits and six earned runs in just 3.2 innings.

“(Rutkowski) had 72 pitches through the first three innings and it was a goal of ours to try and get his pitch count up,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We got lucky with some big hits, some big home runs. I thought our guys today did a good job of battling with two strikes, putting the barrel on the ball with two strikes. Tough, gritty (at-bats).”

The Wolverines’ junior right-hander Karl Kauffmann threw a gem on his first Friday night start of the season, though. He ended the night with an eight-inning shutout, allowing just two hits with five strikeouts on 94 pitches with the defense doing a bulk of the work.

“(Kauffmann) had a relentless attack on the strike zone,” Bakich said. “He does a terrific job of working fast, keeping the defense engaged, he’s got tremendous sinking life on the fastball so he generates a lot of ground ball contact on a day like today where the wind’s blowing out. That’s exactly what we needed.”

Added Kauffmann: “Across the board, starting with (Donovan) behind the plate who catched a great game for me today. (Kerr) on first, (Brewer) out in center made a great play. Everybody’s making plays, everybody’s on their toes ready to go.”

This was seen in full effect when Brewer saved a definite double in the fifth inning, backpedaling to dead center to make a falling catch as the wind gusted, moving the ball at the last minute. Rutgers, on the other hand, dropped two routine fly balls while ground balls confused its infield.

On Friday, Michigan was simply better than the Scarlet Knights from the first swing of the bat to the last.