Michigan to see first test in No. 18 Oklahoma

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 7:32pm

Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas boasts a .346 batting average and will be crucial to cracking Oklahoma's dominant pitching staff.

Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas boasts a .346 batting average and will be crucial to cracking Oklahoma's dominant pitching staff. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

The Michigan baseball team has yet to claim a victory over a ranked opponent, but Thursday, that could change when No. 18 Oklahoma travels to Ann Arbor for a three-game bout this weekend. 

“I think it’s going to be like a heavyweight fight,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I think it’s going to be two very good teams going at it.”

The Sooners (5-4 Big 12, 27-9 overall) will certainly be a challenge, despite Michigan steamrolling through its competition to win 10 of its past 11 matchups and claim a third-place standing in the Big Ten.

Oklahoma boasts a solid record in a tough conference, highlighted by two wins over No. 6 Texas Tech two weeks ago.

Still the 13th-ranked Wolverines (6-3 Big Ten, 26-7 overall) sport a high-octane offense that boasts a .292 overall batting average with 329 hits and 205 runs batted in total on the season so far, capping off an impressive start to the season.

However, Oklahoma has similarly exhibited a strong showing on offense with a .284 cumulative batting average with 334 hits and 209 RBI led by catcher Renae Martinez with a .355 batting average.

What sets the Sooners apart from the Wolverines, though, is their powerful pitching staff. Michigan has had incredible success from the mound with a 3.08 combined earned-run average. Oklahoma’s 2.73 ERA shows that the Wolverines’ bats will have to prove their worth in order to scrap hits from the Sooners. Jake Irvin spearheads its offense with a 1.30 ERA over 34.2 innings-pitched.

Just as Bakich hinted at, the matchup will be a showcase of a high-caliber pitching squad in Oklahoma against a Michigan offense that has consistently arisen in pressure-cooker situations and has stayed hot all season.

The Wolverines are fresh off a win against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday in which sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann launched a walk-off double in the 13th inning to grant Michigan the victory.

On Sunday, though, the Wolverines dropped their final matchup against Illinois, 5-7, in a game marred by 11 forfeited hits.

If Michigan wants success against its first real challenge of the season, it will need to stymie the cooling of its offense in the past two games, especially against the Sooners, who will take advantage of any sacrifice of opportunity.

The Wolverines will likely turn to sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas, who claims a .346 batting average, and junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer, who claims 42 RBI, continue to perform the way they have been.

On paper, it will be the toughest test Michigan has faced to this point, and perhaps the toughest test it will face the rest of the season — the Wolverines have no ranked opponents on their schedule, and in order to accomplish this tall task, they will have to prove they deserve their own ranking.

As Bakich put it: “You look at it and you say, ‘Okay, yeah, this is going to be a very good test, a very good challenge.’ ”