Friday and Saturday, the Michigan baseball team scored 25 runs in three blowout victories against Illinois-Chicago (9-15), but Sunday’s contest wasn’t so easy.
Instead, it required a walk-off. Facing a 1-1 count with runners on first and second, senior outfielder Cody Bruder nailed the ball up the middle, and junior Carmen Benedetti dove home to score the game-winning run in the ninth inning.
“I was just trying to see the ball up, and the rest was a blur,” Bruder said.
Bruder couldn’t even recall what pitch he was thrown, but a hard swing brought Michigan (16-5) the victory, 5-4 at Ray Fisher Stadium.
The game started similarly to the previous contests against the Flames, as Michigan jumped on the board first.
A couple of quick innings for senior left-handed pitcher Evan Hill and a string of hits from the bottom of the lineup put Michigan on top, 2-0, after two innings. After seeing Michigan win the previous three games against the Flames (9-15) by a combined 19 runs, an early lead had the Michigan faithful confident about their team’s chances.
But in the top of the third, an offensive outburst by the Flames, including a triple by Derrick Patrick, tied the game, 2-2. In the next frame, Hill still couldn’t settle down, and the Flames took the lead on an RBI double from No. 8 hitter Cody Mohanek. The Wolverines’ starters usually pitch deep into games, but UIC knocked Hill out after just 3.1 innings.
The bullpen, though, provided the relief that Michigan needed. Freshman left-hander Will Tribucher stepped in to face Patrick and forced a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning.
Down 3-2 in the following inning, freshman outfielder Jonathan Engelmann checked his swing and was punched out on an appeal to first base. Michigan coach Erik Bakich immediately came out onto the field to argue the call.
“C’mon, give me a warning,” Bakich yelled, taunting the umpire.
The ump skipped the warning and tossed Bakich, but the Wolverines weren’t fazed by their coach’s abrupt exit.
“He got us all together and pretty much told us that we’re going to win the game, so it really got us fired up,” said sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Wolverines knocked Flames starter Connor Ryan out of the game and loaded the bases. But unlike the Wolverines, the UIC relief wasn’t able to pitch out of the jam.
Lugbauer stepped up and delivered a single through the hole on the left side of the infield, scoring two to reclaim the lead, 4-3.
It seemed that was all the Wolverines would need, as junior left-handed pitcher Carmen Benedetti came in for Tribucher and cruised through the next three innings.
“(Our bullpen) is a great advantage … especially when you’re playing the 4th game in three days, and you think you could be a little thin,” Bakich said.
Benedetti held UIC without a hit and handed the ball to sophomore right-hander Bryan Pall with a 4-3 lead in the 9th.
Pall faced the top of the Flames lineup and couldn’t finish the job. Two leaping catches by sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens held a runner at third, but UIC eventually scored on a two-out RBI single.
But the Wolverines also had the meat of their lineup due up in the bottom of the ninth, and they delivered. Benedetti and junior catcher Harrison Wenson continued impressive weekends and reached base, setting the stage for Bruder’s heroics.
Though Michigan didn’t beat the Flames as soundly as it did to start the series, to the Wolverines, this victory was equally impressive.
“That pitching staff that they put out today is one of the best we’ve seen all year,” Bruder said.
Ryan had only allowed one run in eight appearances thus far, and the Wolverines tagged him for four in just 4.1 innings of work.