Entering the weekend, the Wolverines found themselves in a precarious situation. To ensure a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, they need wins, and they need them fast.
And on Friday, they found one.
Despite giving up three home runs, the Michigan baseball team (24-18 overall, 10-6 Big Ten) powered back in the bottom of the seventh inning and never gave the lead back, earning a hard-fought 8-4 win over Indiana (20-25, 6-10).
“We weren’t scoring early on, and their pitchers were doing well,” junior catcher Jimmy Obertop said. “It was a huge momentum shift to get those late home runs and it was a great night for the team.”
The Wolverines started off strong in the field, as junior left-hander Connor O’Halloran struck out two Hoosiers and Obertop caught Indiana left fielder Hunter Jessee stealing second base in the first inning. In the bottom half, graduate third baseman Matt Frey drove in graduate center fielder Joe Stewart with a double to put Michigan ahead early.
But that lead wouldn’t last long.
After two quick outs in the top of the second — a routine groundout and a strikeout, Hoosier catcher Matthew Ellis hit a two-out, two-strike pitch well over the left-center wall to tie the game at 1-1.
A similar sequence of events played out just one inning later. Following a three-pitch strikeout and an easy groundout to senior shortstop Riley Bertram, Jessee launched the ball over the wall to put the Hoosiers up 2-1 — the second two-strike, two-out homer for Indiana.
In the fifth inning, the Hoosiers added a third run off a double by Jessee, but in the bottom of the inning, Michigan answered Indiana’s runs with a sacrifice fly from Stewart and a single from Obertop that scored two and tied the game at 3-3.
It took the Hoosiers just five pitches to take the lead back, as designated hitter Carter Mathison took a full-count pitch over the wall in right field. Following the home run, O’Halloran only faced one additional batter before handing the ball over to senior right-hander Willie Weiss.
The three home runs O’Halloran surrendered were a season-high for the lefty and puts him on the wrong side of the history books, giving up the second most homers in a game this season along with five other Wolverines’ outings — three of which happening in the last two weeks.
“Connor pitched fine, they just did a great job of capitalizing on the few mistakes he made,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He was striking them out when he pitched down in the zone, and they just capitalized on the mistakes up higher.”
Weiss held the score for 1.2 innings, long enough for Obertop to bounce a two-run homer off the very edge of the outfield wall in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead back for the first time since the first inning.
The Wolverines added three insurance runs the next innings, as sophomore first baseman Dylan Stanton blasted a solo shot past the left-field fence and junior right fielder Clark Elliott lofted a two-run homer over the scoreboard in right to expand the lead to four.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to play with a lead,” Bakich said. “We’ve played from behind plenty of times this year, and there’s just a different mindset. You press up a little more, you’re playing a little tighter. Playing with a lead means you can play free.”
In contrast to the Hoosiers’ power-heavy bats early in the game, Indiana proved incapable of answering the three Michigan homers. Senior reliever Noah Rennard had little trouble when he entered the game in the top of the eighth, striking out four of the eight batters he faced and earning a two-inning save while cementing the victory for the Wolverines.
As Michigan continues to fight for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, Friday’s win showed what the Wolverines are capable of when all cylinders are firing. They’ll look to convert the momentum into a much-needed weekend sweep over Indiana.