Michigan wins 2-0 on Sunday, overcomes slow start with late heroics

 

Senior centerfielder Johnny Slater in a game against NIU on Sunday.

Senior centerfielder Johnny Slater in a game against NIU on Sunday. Buy this photo
Aaron Baker/Daily
Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 10:00pm

Drew Lugbauer stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning looking at game-winning runs on second and third base with two outs. The junior had gone 0-for-4 so far, but with the game on the line, Lugbauer had a chance to save his day. With a full count, he did just that, launching the ball over the right-field wall for a walk-off three-run home run.

The No. 21 Michigan baseball team (15-4) took on Northern Illinois in a doubleheader Sunday, capping off a four-game bout this weekend that resulted in a 3-1 record in favor of the Wolverines.

Michigan entered the doubleheader Sunday coming off an 8-5 loss in which a late spur in offense was not enough. However, the team clearly did not dwell on its performance, as the Wolverines won both games against the Huskies, 7-4 and 8-3, respectively.

“I liked the starting pitching, I liked the defense,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We did enough offensively and got some big hits.”

Junior right-hander Michael Hendrickson took the mound for Michigan, and after a scoreless first inning, the Wolverines struck first as senior centerfielder Johnny Slater powered through an RBI triple to the right-field gap. He would ultimately make it home on a sacrifice fly from junior first baseman Jake Bivens.

Slater would repeat exactly what he did in the third inning with a two-run triple, increasing the Michigan lead to four.

“We were just sticking with it, and knowing that we were going to come through at some point,” Slater said. “I think everybody goes up there knowing that they are going to have a quality at-bat.”

Northern Illinois did not simply keel over, though, as a four-run fifth inning categorized by two walks, a ground-rule double over the left field line and a two-run RBI single forced its way back into competition.

After the four total runs from Michigan in the second and third innings, it would not score again until the bottom of the ninth, when Lugbauer launched his walk-off home run. Its late game surge propelled them to a 7-4 victory over the Huskies. 

“We probably had more quality at-bats than we’ve had in a long time,” Bakich said. “ … I don’t know how many times we’ve lined out, but that was as good contact as we’ve made all season.”

The Wolverines’ mid-game hitting woes clearly sorted themselves out in the second game of the doubleheader as they had just three scoreless innings. Junior right-hander Alec Rennard was slated for the matchup, and went six innings forfeiting just four hits.

Michigan scored two runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, respectively, highlighted by Lugbauer’s solo home run in the bottom of the third inning.

Freshman right-fielder Dominic Clementi had a breakout performance this weekend as he was a late addition to the lineup, going 3-for-3 with an RBI. Senior catcher Harrison Wenson also played his role to near-perfection, going 1-for-3 with three RBIs.

“We were doing it in a variety of ways, a couple home runs, a couple stolen bases, bunts, moving runners,” Bakich said. “ … We scored in multiple frames.”

The Wolverines’ dominance in the second game proved that Michigan is willing and able to overcome stagnating offense as seen in the first game of the doubleheader.

The versatility shown from players like Lugbauer – who switched from catcher to first base in the second game — and the numerous relief pitchers that saw live innings is a signal that the Wolverines have significant depth that could carry them far into the season.