At the halfway point of its season, the No. 24 Michigan baseball team (22-8) is heating up at exactly the right time.
It’s returned to the rankings. It took four of its first five Big Ten games and eight of its last 10 contests, a stretch that included a 1-0 pitchers’ duel victory against San Jose State, a 16-2 rout of Michigan State and a gritty come-from-behind series win over Minnesota last weekend.
After a tough California swing where they saw their first four losses of the season and an even tougher trip to Texas — where they were swept by No. 11 Texas Tech — the Wolverines are learning from their past mistakes.
Against the Red Raiders on March 21, it was the defense that had issues. Michigan gave up six hits and committed two errors, leading to six unearned Texas Tech runs in the fifth inning alone. The Red Raiders added another run in the bottom of the seventh on an error from sophomore catcher Joe Donovan and tacked on three more in the bottom of the eighth inning to take the game, 11-2.
But since that trip, Michigan’s defense has been one of its strongest assets. The Wolverines’ average fielding percentage is .971, and their aggressive-mistakes mindset has resulted in some impressive plays, including several bare-handers from sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren and senior second baseman Ako Thomas. They turned three inning-ending double plays in Sunday’s 8-0 trouncing of Minnesota alone.
“To be able to minimize (Minnesota’s) opportunities was a huge storyline this weekend,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It’s really just playing good defense. That’s something that helps us have a good day.”
In the Dodgertown Classic, it was the offense that could not produce. After a triumphant 7-5 win over then-No. 2 UCLA on March 8, the lineup could not find a rhythm for the Wolverines as USC’s pitchers stifled their bats and Oklahoma State got clutch hits when Michigan could not.
Now, though, the Wolverines’ clutch hitting has helped them to more than a few victories. In their Big Ten opener against the Spartans, they scored the winning runs off two fifth-inning doubles to break the game open. And in Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Michigan clinched the win on a two-out, two-run double from Thomas in the bottom of the seventh.
Overall, heading into a midweek series against a strong Indiana State team and an away weekend series against archrival Ohio State, Michigan seems to be peaking just when it needs to be. The ghosts of baseball games past have yet to return to haunt the Wolverines, and if Michigan can continue to grow from past mistakes, the team is looking increasingly tough to beat.
“The challenge is just to get better, to play our best baseball,” Bakich said. “I have total faith in our players. If we just come with that mentality of competing and effort and energy, and if we bring that from the first pitch, I think we’ll be in great shape.”