After a 39-run outburst in its three-game sweep of Rutgers last weekend, the No. 19 Michigan baseball team looked poised to continue its momentum against Central Michigan — a bottom-feeder in the Mid-American Conference.
But the Chippewas had other plans.
For the first six innings of Wednesday’s game, Central Michigan (8-10 Mid-American Conference, 16-33 overall) dominated the Wolverines (12-5 Big Ten, 34-13), and hung on by a thread to secure an 8-7 victory.
Through six frames, Central Michigan pitchers Dazon Cole and Colton Bradley combined to no-hit Michigan. Even with four walked batters and five batters hit-by-pitch, the Wolverines’ offense failed to make good contact at the plate until the seventh.
“You can’t take anyone lightly,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “You have to run your fastest race no matter who you’re racing against. This was a humbling day.”
Michigan couldn’t find its way on the mound for most of the contest either.
In the Wolverines’ previous meeting March 29 — a 9-7 win that saw a late rally by the Chippewas — Central Michigan batters used a slew of early-inning singles, a double and two wild pitches to tag Michigan pitchers for eight runs.
Wednesday, freshman left-hander Will Tribucher, who tossed six innings of one-hit scoreless baseball against Eastern Michigan in his previous start, lasted just 2.1 innings and allowed five runs.
Down 8-1 heading into the seventh inning, the Wolverines chances at winning looked bleak.
But two walks and a single loaded the bases for freshman third baseman Jimmy Kerr, who was substituted into the game for fifth-year senior left fielder Matt Ramsay in the fifth. Kerr took advantage of the opportunity with a bases-clearing double to dig into the Chippewas’ lead, 8-4. A sacrifice fly from junior catcher Harrison Wenson added another run for the Wolverines.
The following inning, a single by sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens and a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kerr scored two more runs to make it a one-run game.
“When you have runners on, you have to move up them up or do what you have to do to get them in,” Bakich said. “Jimmy was a great example of that. Coming off the bench to get four RBIs … that’s hard to do.”
In the ninth, Michigan got two runners on base, but three strikeouts stopped the Wolverines from scoring, and Central Michigan secured the win.
“There’s no moral victories for making it close,” Bakich said. “We had some scoring opportunities that we missed in those early innings, and we wouldn’t have been in this position if we took advantage of those.”
Being a non-conference game, the loss did not hurt Michigan’s chances in pursuing its first Big Ten title since 2008. But to accomplish this feat, it must prove that it can take care of business against weaker opponents.