Michigan dominates the West Coast

Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 4:18pm

With one massive swing, sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier launched the ball over the right-field fence, setting an offensive tone for the rest of the Wolverines’ western road trip — an away stand in which they scored a whopping 43 runs.

The San Joaquin Delta College transfer hit the three-run blast in the first game of the Jack Gifford Memorial Tournament at Santa Clara University on Feb. 24, extending Michigan’s lead over Saint Louis (4-1) to 5-0.

“A three run jack with two outs,” said Michigan Coach Erik Bakich on WTKA radio this past Tuesday. “That was certainly a huge momentum swing for us. That was a big deal, a huge hit.”

The homer — Poirier’s second of the season — was the spark that marked the beginning of a relentless offensive surge in the five games that followed, as Michigan (6-2) headed out west to compete in two tournaments — the Jack Gifford and the Dodgertown Classic — as well as two other road games.

In the first game of the road trip, junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie recorded eight strikeouts in six scoreless innings to propel the Wolverines to a 6-1 victory. The win was Jaskie’s first of the season and earned him Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week.

“(Jaskie) set a really good tone in game one,” Bakich said. “(He) pitched six scoreless innings and he’s doing a great job throwing multiple pitches for strikes.”

The day after Jaskie’s performance, Michigan matched up against Creighton (1-4) in an extra-inning thriller.

Heading into the top of the fourth inning, with the game tied at one, the Wolverines took the lead. With a man on second, Ako Thomas ripped a double to left field, bringing the score to 2-1 — the type of clutch play that is becoming the norm for the sophomore second baseman.

“In 16 years of coaching, (Thomas) is one of the best spark plugs I’ve ever been around,” Bakich said.

The very next at-bat, junior first baseman Jake Bivens followed with a single, sending Thomas home and widening the gap. After a single from junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer and a sacrifice fly from senior catcher Harrison Wenson, Michigan had a strong 5-1 lead.

The Bluejays proved relentless. After a rally in the seventh and a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, the game went into extra innings at 6-6.

In the top of the 10th, Bivens reached base on a walk. After an overthrown ball to first by the Creighton pitcher and a ground out by senior left fielder Miles Lewis, Bivens made it to third base.

With one out, the Bluejays decided to intentionally walk the dangerous Lugbauer – the Wolverines’ fourth hitter in the lineup. However, on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, the ball got away from the pitcher and sailed past the catcher. This allowed Bivens to sprint home and score the game-deciding run, as Michigan defeated Creighton 7-6 and extended their record to 2-0 in the tournament.

For Bakich, the comeback brought back memories of a game earlier in the season, when the team blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning before eventually losing to Seton Hall.  

“I think getting punched in the face against Seton Hall in the later innings to lose the lead really toughened our guys up,” he said on WTKA, before noting that after giving up the lead to Creighton, “there was no panic, there was no concern.”

In the final game of the tournament, the Wolverines routed Santa Clara (1-5) — the tournament’s host — 10-3. The game was highlighted by both Lugbauer and Wenson’s first home runs of the season, as the duo accumulated a total of four hits and four RBI.

As a team, Michigan’s offense recorded 13 hits and a season-high 13 walks. The pitching staff was equally dominant, striking out a season-high 11 batters.

Led by their high-octane offense that scored 23 total runs, the Wolverines finished the slate a with a perfect 3-0 record and the Gifford Memorial Tournament title.

***

Two days later, on Feb. 28, Michigan traveled to Stockton, Calif., to face off against San Jose State (3-4).

Led by junior right-hander Alec Rennard, who struck out a career-best nine and allowed just two runs in six innings against the Spartans, the Wolverines’ dominance continued.

After a scoreless first, Michigan came on strong, scoring four in the top of the second. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar and catcher Harrison Wenson helped bolster the lead, each recording solo home runs.

Bakich credited his team’s “superb defense” in the Wolverines’ 6-2 victory over San Jose State.

“(It) is probably better than I admittedly thought it would be,” he said.

After a day off, Michigan headed to Los Angeles to face off against the Loyola Marymount (4-5). The Wolverines’ high level of play on both sides of the ball continued, as they easily defeated the Lions, 14-2.

Michigan came out on a surge, scoring seven runs in the first inning. Wenson’s hot bat continued, as the senior went 2-for-4 with four RBI and recorded a two-run-homer — his third in as many games.

The win extended the Wolverines’ western road trip record to 5-0. During the win streak, Michigan’s offense has been an inferno, scoring an average of 8.6 runs per game.

In the four games prior to the streak the Wolverines scored 31 runs and the team went a pedestrian 2-2. The pitching staff has also stepped it up, allowing just 14 runs in the five-game span after giving up 27 runs in the four games prior.

Michigan will need to continue their strong play on all phases as they head to the Dodgertown Classic in Los Angeles.