Jack Van Remortel runs towards home plate after hitting a home run.
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OMAHA, Neb. — Minutes before first pitch of the Michigan baseball team’s clash with Illinois in the loser’s bracket of the Big Ten Tournament — both teams playing for their seasons with the loser returning to their respective campus — graduate first baseman Jack Van Remortel grabbed a bat, walked near the Wolverines’ on-deck circle alongside their third base dugout and commenced authoring a message to his teammates. 

“I wrote ‘LFG’ in the sand,” Van Remortel said of his actions prior to what could’ve been his last time donning the maize and blue. “You know what that means. I’ll leave it at that.” 

Michigan’s offense certainly needed some inspiration, fresh off an embarrassing run rule bludgeoning at the hands of Iowa a mere 36 hours ago. In the loss, the Wolverines left the bases loaded twice, mired in an offensive slump previously resulting in a five-game skid and punctuated by series with 10 or fewer combined runs against Minnesota and Ohio State

And those struggles to put numbers on the scoreboard spilled over into the early innings of Michigan’s matchup with the Fighting Illini. 

In the first frame, freshman center fielder Jonathan Kim — bumped down from his usual three spot to five due to the resurgence of senior left fielder Tito Flores  — was at the plate with one out and the bases loaded before promptly grounding into a double play, leaving three unscored runners somberly sauntering back to retrieve their fielding gloves. In the second, Van Remortel and freshman third baseman Mitch Voit both reached base to lead off the inning, before the next triumvirate of Wolverine hitters squandered yet another prime scoring opportunity. 

“You could sense a little bit of guys being deflated,” Michigan coach Tracy Smith said. 

But Van Remortel’s three-letter message — by now concealed with cleat marks and scattered raindrops — was at the forefront of his own mind as he settled in the batter’s box in the third inning.

Facing a 1-2 count against Illinois right-hander Riley Gowens, Van Remortel received a fastball on the lower half of the strike zone — and he barrelled it the opposite way to right center field, where it ricocheted off the top of the wall. Van Remortel rounded second, shot a confused glance to the umpire and then quickly retread before continuing his home-run trot, scoring the third Michigan run on the blast and giving the Wolverines a lead they would never relent.

“I was just trying to do my job and score the guy from third,” Van Remortel said. “Just trying to hit a ball into the outfield and luckily got a piece of it and got it good.”

Van Remortel’s three-RBI base-clearer was the difference in an eventual 6-3 final between two essentially parallel teams — both squads one game under .500, finishing adjacent in the Big Ten and losing opening round matchups.  

And Michigan will need more of the same on Friday — facing the loser of Iowa and Indiana — with their pitching staff already thinned just 18 innings into the tournament. Leading arms junior left hander Connor O’Halloran, senior right-hander Noah Rennard and senior left-hander Jacob Denner have all thrown substantial innings thus far. 

“We have not had the luxury of Friday, Saturday and Sunday starter. Middle reliever, this guy come in and close,” Smith said of the ever-changing roles that have defined the Wolverines’ pitching. “… Whatever we need to do, we’re going to find a way. …You might even see something a little different come this weekend. Got a little surprise for you.”

While an imaginative approach may be necessary for success on the mound, Michigan’s offense may rely on something much simpler for the remainder of the Big Ten Tournament: Van Remortel, a bat, some sand to annotate and three capital letters.