Offense seemed like Michigan baseball’s weak spot.

Its starting pitchers were dominant, its relievers capable and its defense talented. Going into the season, the biggest question about Team 153 on paper was how much its lineup could produce when it mattered.

Against Minnesota this weekend, those questions were finally answered: This team can hit.

Clutch performances up and down the lineup made the difference in the Wolverines’ victories Saturday and Sunday over one of their toughest Big Ten competitors. In Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Golden Gophers, senior second baseman Ako Thomas made the difference, launching a two-out double to score the winning two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. 

On Sunday, it was sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin. He homered off the first pitch he saw in the opening inning to put the first run on the board for Michigan. He later plated sophomore catcher Joe Donovan on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning to help the Wolverines to a comfortable 8-0 victory.

“We had the mindset of attacking them right from the beginning,” Franklin said. “We were all ready to go as soon as we got up to bat. Everyone was just really focused. We’re good enough that when we’re focused, we can beat good teams like that 8-0, so it was great to do that.”

Going into the weekend, Minnesota’s presented a formidable challenge. No. 1 starter Max Meyer came into his start Friday with an earned run average of 1.72. Their offense was hot off a 14-4 midweek win. Of the Big Ten competition Michigan has faced or will face this season, the Gophers might be the toughest.

In Friday’s game, that challenge appeared to be too much for the Wolverines. Though they got on the board first on a two-run homer from Franklin in the bottom of the first, they could not find a consistent spark, stranding nine runners on base and falling 6-4 as their ninth-inning rally came up short.

Saturday’s game was a battle, but Michigan was eventually able to wear down the Gopher pitchers. After taking a 2-1 lead off a two-run single from Franklin, the Wolverines tied the game at three on an opposite-field home run from junior right fielder Jordan Brewer before taking the lead on Thomas’ double.

Sunday was a different story. Franklin’s home run sparked the offense, and it didn’t slow down for the rest of game. In the second inning, senior third baseman Jimmy Kerr hit his sixth home run of the year. Kerr also scored in the bottom of the fifth as sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren knocked a blast of his own.

“Having our offense score in all but two innings, being able to keep a lot of pressure on them, we really just had a lot of quality at-bats,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “When we get a ball to smash – something we can do damage with – it’s about taking advantage of the ball and getting a few home runs.”

But Michigan’s offensive success on this weekend wasn’t just limited to the long ball. In Saturday’s game, Michigan tied the contest in the bottom of the second inning off a two-run single from Franklin. On Sunday, Kerr, Franklin, and sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu all notched RBI on smaller hits: a single for Kerr, a sacrifice fly for Franklin, and a double for Nwogu. 

Over the course of the weekend, the Wolverines came up with hits when they needed them most. A seventh-inning go-ahead double to tie the series. A go-ahead home run to win a weekend series against a major conference competitor. Team 153 is starting to look more and more like the serious competitor that Bakich described at the beginning of the season.

“You just want to try to put those competitive at-bats together, and string those quality at-bats together,” Bakich said. “When we’ve had our best scoring days, it’s when we’ve had quality at-bat after quality at-bat together, and getting a big hit that clears the bases. The mindset is always just continuing to improve and continuing to get better. That’s just where we are. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

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