It was the bottom of the second in the first of two games for the Michigan baseball team Saturday. With the bottom of the lineup coming up against Illinois-Chicago, sophomore infielder Drew Lugbauer stood on third, junior infielder Michael Brdar was on second and freshman infielder Ako Thomas on first.
Sophomore infielder Jake Bivens, the leadoff hitter, walked up to the plate and looked out at a beautiful bases-loaded opportunity to drive in his teammates.
But before Bivens could get in a swing, a misplaced throw by the Flames’ pitcher and a fumble by the catcher sent the ball all the way to the backstop, allowing Lugbauer to score on the passed ball. The Wolverines led, 3-0.
Brdar then strolled to third, Thomas advanced to second and Bivens made it safely to first with a base hit on the next play.
“Our goal at the bottom is to get on base for the guys at the top to knock us in,” Brdar said. “When we get on base, it creates pressure for the defense and creates runs.”
The bottom of the lineup contributed significantly toward Michigan’s offense over the weekend. In the bottom of the fifth Sunday, Lugbauer stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and hit a two-run single as both Bivens and Benedetti scored.
The lineup looked pretty much the same for the duration of the series with the exception of Lugbauer and freshman outfielder Jonathan Engelmann switching off between the sixth- and seventh-hitter slot. Brdar spent the weekend as a shortstop and the eighth in rotation. Thomas finished the series securely in the nine hole as the second baseman.
“We have a good group of guys out there, and honestly, they’re just fun to play with,” Brdar said. “Me and (Thomas) in the 8-9 hole, we take pride in our job down there and getting on base with others knocking RBIs and helping us come in and help us win games. It really relieves the pressure from us.”
The lineup was exactly what a solid order should be. Keep the highest batting percentages at the top, the cleanup slugger junior catcher Harrison Wenson at number four, and the fastest in ninth.
Thomas fits that speedy bill.
Deceptively small, Thomas has one of the team’s top on-base percentages (.426), falling just short of left-handed pitcher Carmen Benedetti and Wenson at .500 and .465, respectively. Coming out of the weekend, Michigan coach Erik Bakich praised his OBP.
But Thomas is new to the slot, having hit second for most of high school. But the routine is the same no matter where he bats. Thomas has to be fast and see the pitch.
“Whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll do it,” Thomas said. “When you got a good group of guys around you, it just makes it easier to play anywhere. I don’t think there’s any nerves. I just wanted to play the game like we usually play.”
Bakich has enough skill on his team to fill the sixth through ninth holes with reputable players, but Lugbauer, Englemann, Brdar and Thomas are confirming their claim to the rotation.
After Sunday’s game-winning hit by senior centerfielder Cody Bruder, Lugbauer was waiting in the wings to take over, something that gives the top of the rotation conviction in its game.
“All these guys up and down can put the ball in the gap at any time and have hard at-bats,” Bruder said. “It gives you confidence, because hitting is contagious. I can’t speak enough about those guys, to be honest.”