Sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar flicked his lead hand high, then powerfully brought it down and drove his left arm through, flinging the baseball towards the plate and past the Michigan State hitter. Hajjar picked up a strikeout on the pitch as he struck out the side in the third inning.
Hajjar was dominant on the mound, tossing six scoreless innings and giving up just one hit and one walk as the Michigan baseball team (22-11 Big Ten) shut down Michigan State (12-21) 5-1. Hajjar returned to the dominant form he flashed earlier in the season, putting slight struggles in recent weeks behind him against the Wolverines’ rival.
“Coach Merriman had a great gameplan, calling a lot of high fastballs,” Hajjar said. “We stuck to that for most of the game and (graduate transfer catcher Griffin Mazur) was making the pitches look good behind the plate.”
Hajjar mostly did it himself, racking up a whopping 13 strikeouts on the night. He had every pitch working — fastball, changeup, curveball — and punched out batter after batter, using all of his pitches to rack up strikeouts.
Michigan’s clutch hitting struggles of the past few weeks resurfaced, as they stranded the bases loaded with no one out in the first inning. In each of the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings the Wolverines stranded two runners on base.
But they got just enough offense to get the job done. Mazur opened the scoring with a single up the middle to plate sophomore infielder Jimmy Obertop after his double in the third inning. Sophomore infielder Ted Burton followed with a double into the gap in left, scoring Mazur to make it 2-0.
Michigan got a bit of luck in the fourth to make the game 3-0, as a routine fly ball to center off the bat of graduate transfer infielder Christian Molfetta found the grass when the Michigan State center fielder slipped, allowing fifth-year outfielder Christan Bullock to race around and score from first.
Burton and sophomore outfielders Clark Elliott and Tito Flores led the way offensively for the Wolverines, with each collecting two hits. Obertop also collected a hit to go with a pair of walks and a hit by pitch on the night.
“Our depth as a team is one of our biggest strengths,” Hajjar said. “We’ve had that all year and it’s a luxury that we have that a lot of other teams don’t have. We’re just trying to ride the hot bats.”
Michigan would add two more runs in the ninth. Elliott reached on a walk, graduate transfer infielder Benjamin Sems singled, and a wild pitch allowed both runners to advance and set the stage for Mazur. Mazur then collected his second RBI single of the night, scoring both Sems and Elliott with a hit into center field to push the lead to 5-1.
“I think that shows the persistence of our offense that we were able to put up five runs, even though we didn’t get the job done there in the first inning,” Hajjar said. “We have a lot of guys that like to battle in the box and I think that really showed today. Even though we didn’t get off to our best start, we found a way to finish strong.”
The pitching did the rest from there. Hajjar shut the Spartans down for six innings but left the game with an elevated pitch count of 101. Redshirt junior Isaiah Paige took over in the seventh and retired three Spartans in order. Sems dropped a popup in centerfield to lead off the eighth, allowing a runner to reach second, and a single two batters later would bring him home to bring the score to 3-1.
But junior Willie Weiss took over from there, retiring the final four batters to close out the game. Wolverines’ pitchers finished with 17 strikeouts in total.
“That’s the mentality that we have as a staff, that every guy that we go up against we’re gonna try to strike him out,” Hajjar said. “It’s the best thing you can do as a pitcher in the game, getting a strikeout, it takes the pressure off the defense, so that’s what we all try to do.”
Hajjar lifted Michigan with his dominant outing, putting the Wolverines on track for a big weekend in the midst of the Big Ten title race.