For the first five innings of Friday’s game, the Michigan baseball team looked out of sorts. While sophomore left-hander Connor O’Halloran was dealing on the mound, the batting seemed unable to break the game open against Cal State Fullerton’s pitching — having mustered just one hit in the contest.
Graduate center fielder Joe Stewart had come close to finding that spark, having blasted what could’ve been a three-run homer in the third inning that ultimately was caught by the wind and turned into a flyout on the track.
As he stepped up for his third at-bat of the game, Stewart refused to be denied again. With a 112 mile per hour screamer of a ground ball, he had finally broken into the hit column.
For Stewart, though, just a hit wasn’t good enough.
“Things haven’t been going our way recently, so I figured I might as well take a risk there,” Stewart said. “Sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you got to just make things happen. I felt like it was a good time to take a risk and so I went for it.”
With the turn around second base, Stewart found himself in do-or-die territory. An out would end the inning, but the alternative was a triple — something the Wolverines haven’t recorded in 38 days.
Thanks to his blistering speed, Stewart won the duel. The significance of it would be felt in the next at-bat, after an infield single by junior second baseman Ted Burton would be only just enough to score him and finally put the Wolverines ahead.
High risk, high reward.
“We just want to play fearless,” Wolverines coach Erik Bakich said. “When you’re in a little bit of a funk, sometimes the way to do that is to maybe go against the grain a little bit. You never want to make the final out at third, but had he not taken the chance we potentially wouldn’t have scored.
“We just want to go for it every chance we get.”
After a tying run from the Titans in the eighth, Michigan entered the bottom of the inning needing one last spark. It came in a hurry, thanks to a line drive homer just two pitches into the inning from a rather unexpected person — graduate third baseman Matt Frey.
“We moved [Matt Frey] down the lineup to release the pressure valve a little bit,” Bakich said. “He had a frustrating night in the midweek, hit the ball as hard as anybody just had nothing to show for it, and we wanted to settle him a bit. He saw the ball well today, I don’t envision him staying down there for long.”
After going 1-3 in the last four games, Friday’s win — heroics and all — looks to start a new, more favorable trend.
“When we’re losing games, it’s not like woe is me, like, ‘Oh God I hope we win,’” Frey said. “It sucks to lose, but it’s OK, we’re gonna come to the ballpark the next day and expect to win, and we got it today.”