In the bottom of the ninth inning, all hope was just about lost for the Michigan baseball team. Missing out on scoring opportunities all game, fans were packing up their belongings and heading for the exits.
Enter junior catcher Jimmy Obertop.
With two outs and a runner on first, Obertop crushed a game-tying home run over the towering brick wall in left field. Just like that, the Wolverines were headed to extra innings.
Michigan (21-15, 7-3 Big Ten) cashed in on that opportunity, defeating Ohio State (12-22, 2-9 Big Ten), 9-8, in the first game of a highly anticipated series.
But the path to that victory was rocky. The Buckeyes took control of the game from the jump, showing their offensive woes were not an issue against the Wolverines.
In the second inning, Ohio State struck first when center fielder Kade Kern hit an opposite-field home run to right field. That homer sparked a five-run deluge that included three singles and a botched pick-off to give the Buckeyes an early 5-0 lead.
“We had the one tough ending there where it seemed like every ball found a hole,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “(Ohio State) did a good job of putting the bat on the ball and scoring five runs.”
In the bottom of the inning, however, the Wolverines responded with two solo home runs of their own by Obertop and graduate transfer first baseman Jack Van Remortel, his first of the season.
While Michigan inched a little closer with another run in the third, the Buckeyes extended their lead once again in the fifth inning with a home run by first baseman Zach Dezenzo that went 440 feet over the center-field wall. The Wolverines’ pitching struggled and Ohio State jumped all over it.
Junior right-hander Noah Rennard entered the game to change the narrative, but he got himself into immediate trouble and gave up a leadoff home run to Buckeyes’ shortstop Marcus Ernst.
Nonetheless, Michigan hung tough with a double from junior Tito Flores, a walk, and an RBI double by Van Remortel in the bottom of the inning. Just like that, the Wolverines were down by just two runs with no outs.
Unfortunately for Michigan, a Buckeyes’ pitching change was all that was needed to staunch the bleeding. The top three of the Wolverines’ batting order couldn’t score with two runners in scoring position.
Despite an insurance run by the Buckeyes in the top of the eighth, Michigan found itself with another ample opportunity with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning. A missed slider hit junior Joey Valasquez in the foot, scoring a much-needed run. However, the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize once again as junior Clark Elliott grounded out.
But in a game not short of excitement, Obertop crushed a game-tying home run to send the game into extras.
In extras, pulses only continued to rise. Senior shortstop Riley Bertram singled to lead off the inning, which was followed by two defensively-botched bunts from Van Remortel and junior infielder Jake Marti that loaded the bases with no outs. Another opportunity to score loomed over the Michigan dugout in Ray Fisher Stadium.
“We had squandered some opportunities earlier in the game with bases loaded and runners on so, for me, I was just not trying to do too much just to stay consistent,” Elliott said. “Not trying to let the moment get too big and just kind of settling myself and using my breath. (I told myself) to just go out there and have fun.”
This time, the Wolverines scored. As they have all season, they jumped on the back of Elliott who singled to walk it off in a picture-perfect ending.
“Watching them celebrate, (I felt) like a dad on Christmas morning,” Bakich said. “Those are the celebratory moments you chase; just to see the pure joy on their face. It’s even better when it’s against a rival.”