Riley Bertram fielded the first out, a ground ball up the middle, with ease. Three hours later, he fielded the last out.
In between, the junior second baseman’s three hits, two runs, three RBI and three double plays led the No. 25 Michigan baseball team to a 7-0 win over Ohio State.
Batting ninth and entering the game with an average of just .170, Bertram looked like the least dangerous cog of the Wolverines’ lineup.
“He punched out a lot early (in the season), had too many strikeouts,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. ”He was missing his pitches, getting into too many two-strike counts and not drawing enough walks.”
But he’s a much-improved hitter, no matter what his recent numbers might show. On the advice of some teammates, he’s lowered his hands, which allows for a faster swing with less excess movement and he’s taken more quality at-bats in his last few games.
Still, he knew facing Buckeyes’ starter Seth Lonsway, who managed to strike out fifth-years third baseman Christian Molfetta and catcher Griffin Mazur — both tough outs — in the first inning, would be difficult.
Bertram’s first at-bat against Lonsway came in the second inning, with two on and two out. He was looking for a fastball and got one on the first pitch, hitting it through the middle and driving in a run.
“It was good to be on it enough to squeak one up the middle,” Bertram said.
While he waited for his next at-bat, Bertram helped keep the game close on defense. Ohio State put two runners on base in the fourth, but he and fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems turned an inning-ending double play. Strong defense like that gave sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston extra confidence to throw strikes and induce contact.
“Every time something’s hit up the middle, I expect him to get it,” Weston said.
Lonsway had a successful second pass through the heart of the order in the third inning, but the bottom of the lineup, led by Bertram, beat him up in the fourth. With two runners in scoring position, Lonsway offered Bertram the curveball that had given his teammates fits all afternoon. Bertram crushed it to the warning track for a two-run double. He scored on a wild pitch later in the inning, turning a pitcher’s duel into a 4-0 lead.
But Bertram wasn’t done yet.
In the sixth, he doubled and scored once again, putting the game further out of Ohio State’s reach. He and Sems turned another double play in the eighth, and he and Mazur connected to put out a would-be base stealer in the ninth. Having dominated the game from the very first pitch, it seemed fitting for him to field the final out as well.