What had been an immensely frustrating week for the Michigan baseball team appeared to be ending in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game.
Junior catcher Harrison Wenson approached home plate with runners on first and second with one out. It was his chance to be the hero.
But he grounded into an inning-ending double play and Oakland scored a run in the next frame to top the Wolverines, 6-5. Michigan (12-8 Big Ten, 34-17 overall) is now on a five-game skid for the first time since 2013.
“We talked about believing that we could do it,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich referring to his team’s rally. “We’ve had big innings many times this year. Everyone just found a way to get on base. We tied it up and had the chance to win. We just didn’t win it.”
Down 5-2 in the ninth, senior pinch-hitter Dominic Jamett began Michigan’s comeback by getting hit by a pitch. On the next at-bat, sophomore shortstop Michael Brdar lifted a fly ball to right field that appeared to be an out before the right fielder dropped it. Freshman second baseman Ako Thomas then drew a walk to load the bases with no one out.
Senior center fielder Cody Bruder took advantage as he hit a bases-clearing double past the third baseman to tie the game at five. Junior left fielder Carmen Benedetti was intentionally walked before Wenson grounded into his double play.
“I saw (Thomas) motoring and I was just hoping that he would make it,” Bruder said. “We had to tie that game up to get some leverage going our way and hats off to all of the guys in front of me.”
The Golden Grizzlies (10-12 Horizon, 22-24) put the nail in the Wolverines’ coffin in the tenth when left fielder Myles Zilinsky singled to center to drive in the game-winning run. Michigan went down without much of a fight in the tenth as a one-out walk by junior right fielder Johnny Slater was followed by another double play.
“It’s always tough to have an emotional roller coaster like that,” Bruder said. “It just didn’t work out for us.”
Before the ninth inning, the contest was a fairly low scoring affair.
Oakland scored in the top of the first when right fielder Tyler Pagano hit a two-out, two-run home run. The Golden Grizzlies threatened further damage when second baseman Ian Yetsko reached on a fielding error and Ben Hart singled up the middle.
But Michigan sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof kept Oakland in check when he got the next batter to fly out to left field.
“(Nutof) left a fastball up and the guy hit it out,” Bakich said. “I thought that it was just one pitch that was up in the zone and the guy put a good swing on it.”
The Wolverines’ offense, which had been stymied for the first four frames, turned on in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Bruder came to bat with runners on first and second and one out. He singled up the middle to drive in Michigan’s first run while Benedetti followed up with his own RBI single to tie the game. Bruder finished Tuesday with four hits in five at-bats and four RBI.
“Every inning, you just try to make the pitcher work as hard as possible,” Bruder said. “That’s what Bakich instills in us. That’s what we try to do each and every inning.”
The Golden Grizzlies were poised to strike again in the sixth when they put runners on second and third with two outs. Center fielder Ryan Fitzgerald came to the plate with a chance to put Oakland on top.
Both runners scored during Fitzgerald’s at-bat, but they did on a balk and a wild pitch, respectively. Michigan was in a two-run hole of its own making.
“That was disappointing to see,” Bakich said regarding the miscues. “But you have to put steel in the spine and you got to be better.”
The Golden Grizzles mounted another offensive in the eighth when catcher Matt Dileo came to bat with a man on second and no one out. He laid down a sacrifice bunt down the third base line to advance the runner to third.
But the throw hit Dileo in the helmet and bounced past first base, allowing a run to score and leaving Michigan down 5-2 before its ultimately unsuccessful comeback effort one frame later.
“(The last week) has been a rough patch for us,” Bruder said. “We know we’re a good team and we know that we’ll come out of this stronger than we were coming in. I think we’ll be alright, but teams have rough patches.”
Even with their recent frustrating stretch, the Wolverines’ are still in 36th place in the rating percentage index standings, which will be used to help determine which teams make the NCAA tournament.
Before that, though, Michigan will try to regain momentum with a three-game road series at Illinois beginning May 19 as a prelude to the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.