The No. 21 Michigan baseball team found itself down 1-0 in the middle of the fifth inning Saturday, just like its game Friday.
And like they did in Friday’s game, the Wolverines (11-5 Big Ten, 33-12 overall) offense kicked into high-gear in the bottom of the fifth, accumulating three consecutive multi-run frames en route to a 13-1 victory over Rutgers (6-11, 23-24). Michigan has now scored 51 runs in its last four contests.
“Honestly, I think it’s a situation where it’s taking us a few innings to settle in,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Their pitchers have done a nice job, whether it be locating pitches or making good pitches. I think there were a lot of opportunities where we might’ve scored earlier, but you just credit their defense for putting some zeros up.”
Michigan got rolling when junior catcher Harrison Wenson drew a two-out walk to put men on first and second bases. Senior center fielder Cody Bruder came up to the plate, and a wild pitch during his at-bat allowed the runners to advance into scoring position.
That prompted Rutgers starter John O’Riley to intentionally walk Bruder, bringing sophomore third baseman Drew Lugbauer up to bat with the Wolverines down, 1-0.
The move proved costly as Lugbauer smacked a double to left field, driving in all three runs and giving Michigan its first lead of Saturday’s game.
“I stuck to the approach that (Bakich) gave me,” Lugbauer said. “He was spot on with it. He said that he’s going to throw you curveballs with runners in scoring position. I just stuck to the approach and stayed connected with the guys on base.”
Added Bakich: “We hit some balls hard. I think (Rutgers’ defense) played as well as they could’ve played. Fortunately for us, we were able to put some pretty good swings on some balls.”
In the sixth frame, junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti entered the batter’s box with fifth-year senior left fielder Matt Ramsay on first, sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens on second and two outs. Bendedetti recorded a single on the at-bat to load the bases.
Bakich initiated a double-steal play, during which a throw that escaped the third baseman allowed Bivens to score and Ramsay to reach third base. Ramsay came home shortly thereafter as Rutgers pitcher Ryan Fleming was called for a balk.
“Whether (Benedetti) hits them in or it’s a balk, I don’t think he cares,” Bakich said. “He’s a team player and I think he was happy that (Ramsay) scored.”
After Wenson was hit by a pitch, Bruder broke the game open with a two-run double down the left field line. Not to be outdone, though, Lugbauer launched a two-run homer over the center field wall to put Michigan ahead, 9-1. He finished Saturday with two hits in three at-bats and six RBI.
“The cool thing about the sixth was that (the scoring) was all done with two outs,” Bakich said. “That’s hard to do. It’s hard to have a big inning with two outs, let alone a huge inning like a six-spot. I like the way that we were aggressive on the bases.”
Even with such a lopsided final score, sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie turned in a gem for Michigan to improve his record to 7-2. He threw for seven innings, allowed one run, five hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
“I did a good job of staying connected with my defense,” Jaskie said. “Everybody was making great plays all night. It’s a credit to them.”
No. 24 Michigan State’s 6-3 loss to Nebraska leaves the Wolverines in sole possession of third place in the Big Ten, one full game ahead of the Spartans. Meanwhile, No. 19 Minnesota’s 8-6 victory over Indiana leaves Michigan trailing the Hoosiers by one-half game and the Golden Golphers by a full game.
Though the Wolverines cannot under any circumstances climb into the top spot of the conference before the weekend is out, they can enter the runner-up position with a win and an Indiana loss Sunday. But Jaskie insisted that his team continues to ignore all of that.
“We just focus on us,” Jaskie said. “We just care about what we do and we try to win every pitch, every inning, every at-bat.”