After a hiccup on Wednesday against a Central Michigan, this week provided more than just the one-game eyesore on the Michigan baseball team’s résumé.
Michigan (12-8 Big Ten, 34-16 overall) swept Rutgers in dominant fashion a week ago, but a trip to Columbus provided a much more difficult test for the Big Ten preseason favorites.
After losing a one-run heartbreaker on Friday, Michigan could not find their groove for the remainder of the weekend, and lost 7-3 on Saturday and 8-2 on Sunday to Ohio State (13-8, 35-16-1). The sweep marks Michigan’s longest losing streak of the year, and pushes them to down to sixth in the Big Ten standings.
In all three games, Michigan was able to score first. But in all three games, Buckeye pitching was also able to limit the damage in later innings, and walked five batters all weekend.
“We were out of sorts, we lacked rhythm in our offense,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It just wasn’t a great weekend for us offensively.”
In Friday’s game, Michigan was able to jump out to a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly from fifth-year senior designated hitter Dominic Jamett. But against Ohio State’s ace, Tanner Tully, one run is all the Wolverine offense, which is tops in the Big Ten in hitting, could muster.
Tully pitched eight innings, striking out eight and allowing five hits. And Michigan’s ace, junior Brett Adcock, though he struck out nine and pitched deep into the game as well, couldn’t match Tully’s one-run performance.
Ohio State homered to lead off the fifth, and went on to score three in the inning — which is all the Buckeyes would need.
Sophomore third baseman Drew Lugbauer singled home a run in the ninth, but an outstanding defensive play ended Michigan’s rally, and the Buckeyes took the opener, 3-2.
And right away on Saturday, the Wolverines showed its dissatisfaction with the close loss on Saturday. A two-run homer from junior Carmen Benedetti had Michigan rolling in the first inning, but just as happened on Friday, the bats slowed down.
And all of the sudden, after four throwing errors in the third and the fourth innings, the bats needed to speed up — Michigan was down, 6-2.
Junior left-handed pitcher Keith Lehmann came on in relief, and finished out a tough fourth inning for the Wolverines. He held the Buckeyes offense to just one hit for the remainder of the contest, but Lehmann’s shutdown effort could not inspire a Wolverine comeback. The Buckeyes’ pitching staff was able to strike out 10 batters and strand seven runners, giving Ohio State the win.
“(Lehmann) pitched very well, he kept the score close,” Bakich said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tack on the runs that we needed.”
Saturday’s 7-3 loss left Michigan hoping to escape enemy territory with a win in Sunday’s finale, and senior left hander Evan Hill was on the mound fighting for that to happen.
Ohio State tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first, but after that, Hill went to work. The 6-foot-5 senior retired 12 straight Buckeyes.
But once again, the lack of run production — an uncharacteristic trend for a team averaged 13 runs a game against Rutgers — continued. And Hill was not able to keep the Ohio State offense at bay forever.
The Buckeyes’ Jalen Washington belted a two-run homer in the fifth to break the tie. Hill was replaced by sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof, but Nutof could not finish the inning unscathed — two more runs scored, making it 5-1 Ohio State.
A late-inning solo home run by junior catcher Harrison Wenson did not do much to help overcome the large deficit, and Michigan lost, 8-2.
Bakich thought that the team had good effort all weekend, but Sunday’s loss left Michigan searching for answers.
“When you invest 100 percent of everything you’ve got into making something great, and you have a setback … it’s disappointing, it pisses you off,” Bakich said. “But the effort is never in question.”
Michigan has taken care of business in Big Ten series against Northwestern, Rutgers, and Iowa. However, aside from a sweep against a 13-8 Nebraska team, the Wolverines have struggled to find their rhythm against top teams, and have accumulated a 1-8 record against No. 25 Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
But Bakich has led Michigan to a tournament title before, and this team is on pace for their best record under his management.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Bakich said. “We’re extremely confident because we know we’re better than what we showed.”
Michigan has one more week of games before heading to Omaha for the Big Ten Tournament. They will play Oakland (10-11 Horizon, 21-23) in their final home game on Tuesday, and then hit the road to face Illinois (10-11 Big Ten, 26-22) this weekend.