As the Michigan baseball team clung to a 3-2 lead over Delaware in the bottom of the eighth inning, junior centerfielder Jonathan Engelmann stepped up to the plate and delivered a rocket up the middle to get on base. With lectures about the importance of creative baserunning surely floating through his mind, Engelmann overzealously took off toward second base. But his efforts would crash and burn, as the Blue Hen catcher launched the ball to the second baseman for an easy tag-out.
Junior third baseman Blake Nelson then grounded into the second out. After a promising start, the Wolverines found themselves facing a two-out, bases-empty situation.
Enter freshman slugger Jesse Franklin.
After Engelmann’s baserunning error and Nelson’s groundout, expectations were low for the first baseman. But Franklin shocked the crowd at Ray Fisher Stadium by cranking a shot to deep left field.
The ball flew over the wall, and the Wolverines poured out of the dugout to celebrate the impressive shot. Franklin rounded the bases, triumphantly stomped on home plate and was quickly mobbed by his gleeful teammates.
The solo bomb gave Michigan (16-11 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) a vital insurance run, effectively sealing a 4-2 win over Delaware (13-12).
“I just got a good fastball over the middle of the plate,” Franklin said. “Coach (Nick) Schnabel has been trying to give me tips to go the other way, and I’m just glad it went over the wall.”
Even before Franklin’s blast over the left wall, the Wolverines had a prolific day at the plate, amassing ten hits in the contest.
But those hits didn’t translate into as many runs as Michigan would have liked. The team was plagued by ineffective baserunning the whole day. Five runners were thrown out while trying to take additional bases, and the Wolverines stole just two bases despite their numerous attempts.
Despite a disastrous day on the basepaths, Michigan’s incessant desire to nab additional bases has paid dividends in the past and allowed the team to consistently compete.
“Today was probably our worst day baserunning-wise,” Franklin said. “We had a bad day today, but on Friday our baserunning won us the game and we were just going around and around and around. We talk a lot about extra 90s and how it changes a game.”
Added coach Erik Bakich: “It’s just a mindset thing. Just wanting to get on base and go. We don’t want to be tethered to the base, we wanna get to scoring position. The more you can advance 90 feet, the more chances you have to score runs. So again, we’re not a power hitting team, it’s nice to get an occasional home run, but we’re a manufacture type of offense.”
On the defensive side of things, though, the Wolverines were rock-solid. Sophomore right-hander Karl Kauffman gave Michigan a solid performance, tossing six innings and allowing two runs, only one of them earned. Kauffman’s outing was supplemented by a combined three sound innings from freshman right-hander Jeff Criswell and junior left-hander Will Tribucher.
Criswell was cool and collected in his two innings of relief. In the eighth inning, Criswell found himself on the mound with the bases loaded but stepped up and sent the Blue Hens back to their dugout with their tails tucked between their legs.
“My approach there was just stay calm,” Criswell said. “Take deep breaths, just realize that if I can make a good pitch, somebody around me will pick me up and make a good play like they did today.”
Supporting Criswell in his showcase was the athleticism and ferocity of the Wolverine defense, which was in was in full display in the top of the seventh inning.
The first batter Criswell faced hit a bomb to deep left field, and the ball bounced off the wall where freshman Jordan Nwogu collected it and launched it to second base. The throw was just in time, and Michigan collected the out.
“It fired me up for sure,” Criswell said. “Seeing a guy like that make an incredible play just kind of lit a little bit of a fire in my stomach and kinda let me just go get the next two for the rest of the guys. It was an incredible play and props to him, it was a really good throw.”
With the win, Michigan extended its winning streak to 12 games, marking a drastic turnaround from a disappointing 4-11 start to the season.
“We don’t ever want to go back to that rollercoaster of not only emotions, but of inconsistent play,” Bakich said. “It just feels different now because of the mindset the guys have. So, all the credit goes to them. Recognizing that their mindset needed to be better and then doing something about it and sustaining it to get the team hot.”