This season, the Michigan baseball team’s power has predominantly come from the bats of a handful of players.
With Tito Flores, Clark Elliott and Joe Stewart leading the pack and Matt Frey, Jimmy Obertop and Ted Burton following closely behind, the concentration of the Wolverines’ power is so extreme that aside from those six players, only two other batters reached multiple home runs entering the week.
Following Wednesday’s 21-9 beatdown of Wright State, though, Michigan added two more hitters to that list. And they were two players that aren’t typically known for their power: senior shortstop Riley Bertram, and senior catcher Casey Buckley.
“When you’re playing good baseball, the energy’s always up,” Bertram said. “We needed to get some momentum going and get things figured out. And to see things work out on the field just brought out a lot of excitement in everyone.”
After a demoralizing loss to Xavier the previous night, Michigan coach Erik Bakich threw the gauntlet down. A change was needed — and it was needed quickly.
The Wolverines wasted no time, producing a statement win the very next day.
After jumping out to an early 3-1 lead, the Michigan bats were hungry for more. Bertram — who had just one home run this season prior to the at bat — only needed one pitch to add to the scoreboard, mashing an emphatic three-run bomb to put the lead at five runs.
“I was in the seventh hole, and I came up with one out and three runs scored already,” Bertram said. “It gave me a lot of confidence and a good mentality.”
Two innings later, the lead had swelled even further to 10-1, but the Wolverines weren’t done yet. With the bases loaded and Obertop — who has 8 home runs on the year — on-deck, it seemed like a surefire opportunity to put the game away just three innings into play.
And Michigan did just that — but it wasn’t Obertop who stepped up.
Instead, it was Buckley, a pinch-hit move that few expected. And Buckley made the most of his opportunity.
“We preach a lot about preparing yourself and staying ready for the moment,” Buckley said. “Our coaches do a great job at training us for a situation like that. It’s a next man up mentality.”
After watching the first pitch go by for a strike, Buckley didn’t let another ball go by him, blasting a no-doubt grand slam. The celebration from Michigan’s dugout was emphatic — only being held back by the home plate umpire for a brief moment before mobbing Buckley as he crossed the plate.
After a turbulent season, it exemplified a rare moment of unfiltered elation for the Wolverines.
“I think most of the guys hate to lose much more than they love to win,” Bakich said. “You know that feeling after a loss where everything just eats at you and you question everything. It brings out the worst in everybody.
“Tonight, we’re having a much different feeling, and we want to have this feeling as much as we possibly can.”
Although one win cannot erase all of the losses, the impressive performance from the Wolverines hitters — especially from new sources — provides a spark that Michigan can build off of. For Bertram and Buckley, this could ignite power from their bats as they near the end of their collegiate careers.