Michigan wins home opener against UIC
What started as a pitchers’ duel for the Michigan baseball team turned into a blowout.
The 23rd-ranked Wolverines (13-5) used a six-run eighth inning to propel themselves to a 10-2 victory over Illinois-Chicago (9-12). Sophomore left-handed pitcher Oliver Jaskie earned the win to improve to 3-1 on the season.
“We just try to keep the gas pedal down,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Sometimes we can jump a team early, but it seems like a lot of times we’ve gotten stronger as the game goes on.”
Michigan entered the bottom of the sixth inning tied at two when junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti drew a walk. Senior catcher Harrison Wenson followed Benedetti up with a two-run home run — his third of the season — to give the Wolverines a 4-2 edge.
“I just try to stick to my approach,” Wenson said. “Coach Bakich and the coaches do a great job giving us the tools to succeed.”
Illinois-Chicago attempted to stage a rally in the top of the eighth when the Flames put runners on second and third with only one out. But the Wolverines’ freshman right-handed pitcher Will Tribucher got Illinois-Chicago right fielder Conor Philbin to fly out. Michigan sophomore right-hander Mac Lozer then came in to finish the inning with a strikeout.
“That’s one thing about (Illinois-Chicago),” Bakich said. “They continue to fight. They put together a couple of good swings to get the tying runs on base.”
But the Wolverines broke open the floodgates in the bottom of the eighth.
Following a leadoff double by Benedetti, Wenson hit an RBI double to left-center to make the score 5-2. He finished with two hits in three at-bats with one home run and three RBI. A sacrifice fly three batters later by freshman right fielder Jonathan Engelmann extended Michigan’s cushion to four runs.
Freshman shortstop Michael Brdar proceeded to be hit by a pitch, and freshman second baseman Ako Thomas walked to load the bases with two outs.
Then sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens came up with a two-RBI single to extend the lead to six. Senior left fielder Matt Ramsay followed Bivens up with an RBI single of his own before Benedetti came through with an RBI double to put the Wolverines up eight.
“I’ve always thought we had a balanced lineup,” Bakich said. “I’ve always thought one through nine that our hitters are very capable.”
The game remained scoreless until the top of the fifth when the Flames’ center fielder Derrick Patrick singled to right-center field. He advanced to second base on a passed ball, and a walk and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out.
While Jaskie got UIC catcher Wyatt Mascarella to strike out swinging, second baseman David Cronin hit an infield single to drive in a run. Jaskie picked off Cronin at first to end the inning.
The Wolverines responded in the bottom of the fifth when senior center fielder Cody Bruder hit a ground-rule double. Sophomore designated hitter Drew Lugbauer signaled up the middle on the next at-bat to bring home Bruder.
Two batters later, Brdar doubled down the left-field line to put runners on second and third with one out. A fielding error allowed Thomas to reach first base and Lugbauer to score, putting Michigan ahead, 2-1.
But Bivens then grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to finish the frame.
The Wolverines’ lead didn’t last long as the Flames put runners on the corners with one out in the top of the sixth inning. An RBI single by UIC designated hitter Gabe Dwyer tied the game, though Philbin was thrown out on the play. Jaskie got the next batter to ground out and prevent further damage from being done.
“I just trusted my teammates to make plays behind me because I have a phenomenal defense,” Jaskie said. “Whenever we’re in a jam — or honestly at any point in the game — we just have to have trust that our teammates will make plays behind us and fill up the strike zone as best we can.”
Michigan’s 10-run total Friday was its highest of the season thus far. The Wolverines will have to make sure they didn’t exhaust their offense Friday as they will have to turn around and play a doubleheader Saturday.