Leading by as many as eight runs, it appeared that Maryland would cruise to a victory over Michigan on Friday afternoon. They went up by six runs in the sixth. They took a commanding 8-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. They nearly shut the door on several occasions, but the Wolverines kept battling. Despite the loss, they pushed the Terrapins to the brink.
Ultimately, Michigan (26-14) fell short to Maryland (25-14), 11-8, in 11 innings. The Wolverines clawed and fought their way back to force extra baseball, but three runs in the top of the 11th proved to be enough for the Terrapins to walk away with the victory. Michigan lived up to its identity and never shied away from the deficit, an effort that should not go unnoticed.
“We believe we can come back,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “Whatever the deficit is, we can come back. We train for that. To not get the win after that is extremely disappointing.”
The trouble began early for the Wolverines. After cruising his way through the first two batters, left-handed redshirt sophomore Steven Hajjar walked back-to-back Terrapins. While he worked his way out of the jam, it was concerning that he could not finish the inning earlier.
In the top of the third, Maryland finally capitalized on its offensive opportunities. After two stolen bases and a passed ball on a strikeout, the Terrapins were in striking position with runners on the corners. They would go on to score via a safety squeeze and then a single.
For Hajjar, his line was underwhelming. He went five innings and allowed six runs, but only two of those were earned. He received little help from his defense, but the Terrapins also made solid contact all day. His eight strikeouts were a silver lining and should have impressed the scouts.
As has been the case in many games, Michigan brought its firepower later in the game. Fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur and redshirt sophomore outfielder Jordon Rogers singled to start the rally in the seventh inning. Then, sophomore outfielder Joey Velasquez finally got the Wolverines on the board after a single through the right side of the infield. For Velasquez, he added a spark off the bench that nearly propelled the team to a win.
“He’s a great teammate, he’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win,” Bakich said. “He knows the value of teamwork, of sacrifice. He’s on the football team as well, he’s just an incredible kid with an incredible family.”
Michigan would eventually load the bases and draw a run due to a walk. After closing the gap to 8-3, it seemed as if the Wolverines could muster another miracle come-from-behind victory. Maryland emphatically shut them down and escaped the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Wolverines still lingered. Thanks to a wild pitch that scored fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta and a single from sophomore infielder Ted Burton, the lead was cut to three. Mazur kept Michigan alive with a slap single to right.
With two outs and two men on, sophomore outfielder Tito Flores represented the tying run at the plate. Just like his teammate before him, he drove the ball to right, but this time, a run scored. Suddenly, Maryland’s 8-0 lead was cut to 8-6. Rogers worked a walk and out of nowhere, the Wolverines were not only hanging on by a thread but had a chance to win the game.
Once again, Velasquez came through. He drove a ball into center field and tied the game at 8-8. On an afternoon where the Wolverines appeared destined for a letdown, they somehow stuck around. Most notably, they churned out five ninth innings runs with two outs — a testament to their depth and ability to make a pitcher work.
Despite forcing extra innings, the comeback would eventually fall short as the Terrapins tacked on three runs in the top of the 11th. Despite the loss, the Wolverines displayed their ability to score in a hurry.
“[We] gave a good team too many freebies,” Bakich said. “They capitalized on (our) mistakes. We made it an awesome game. But at the end of the day, we didn’t come out on top.”
If Michigan wants to compete for a Big Ten title, it is imperative that it gets off to a better start. If not, they will be forced to play catch up, something they hope to avoid in these crucial matchups.