Explosive bats, implosive pitching — that’s what made up the Wolverines’ midweek series.
The Michigan baseball team (6-3 overall) took on Florida Atlantic University (6-3) this Tuesday and Wednesday in a pair of high-scoring affairs. The teams split the series, with the Owls taking the first game, 9-8, on the back of a slow-burn comeback and the Wolverines taking game two, 20-13, in an intense slugfest.
“It’s an old, veteran, good lineup,” coach Erik Bakich said. “It’s hard to pitch to all nine guys.”
That veteran Michigan lineup seemed to be in the driver’s seat to start off the series. Coming off a weekend series sweep, the Wolverines had momentum, and it showed.
Junior right-hander Noah Reynard cruised through the first three innings, allowing FAU only two hits. Meanwhile, the Michigan bats retained their pop from the weekend in Miami, where they averaged more than twelve runs a game, racking up five runs through the first four innings.
But in the bottom of the fourth, Reynard swiftly loaded the bases and was then pulled after allowing a run. With the Wolverine starter off the mound, the game’s momentum shifted toward the Owls.
FAU began to whittle its way back into the game by playing heads-up baseball. Another run was scored in the fourth on a double-play ground ball. Then in the fifth, a wild pitch and sacrifice fly made it a one-run game.
Michigan’s offense was unable to answer with haste, going down quickly in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. That allowed the Owls to tie the game thanks to a sixth-inning sacrifice bunt, and then take the lead with a seventh-inning RBI single.
But this time the ever dangerous Wolverine offense mustered a response.
“(We know) FAU is gonna be a quality team,” said graduate center fielder Joe Stewart. “It’s about controlling what we can control.…We’re gonna play hard.”
Junior right fielder Clark Elliott ripped the ball down the right-field line for a two-run triple. Then Elliott was driven in by Stewart to extend the recaptured lead.
But yet again, the lead could not be held.
After an error in the eighth led to another FAU run, the Owls were able to walk it off on a bases-loaded single to pull off the improbable 9-8 comeback.
“It’s the beginning part of the season,” Bakich said. “It’s just the reps. …The more innings pitched, the better we’ll be.”
In game two, while growing pains for Michigan’s young bullpen would continue, the Wolverine offense would not allow FAU another comeback.
Michigan again drew first blood with an RBI from Junior first baseman Ted Burton. Following that, a fielding error, a wild pitch and hits from Elliott and Stewart gave the Wolverines yet another 5-0 lead over the Owls. And yet again, FAU responded in force.
Driving in four runs in the bottom of the second, then another three between the third and fourth innings to take a 7-5 lead, the Owls continued to knock around Michigan’s Pitching staff.
The Wolverine bullpen did manage to get a temporary hold on the opposing bats, as both offenses then lay dormant until Michigan came to bat in the seventh. That’s when the Wolverines’ explosiveness reappeared.
After allowing a single to Stewart, Owl left-hander Max Martzolf walked a batter, then hit two more. These three consecutive free passes scored Stewart and led to Martzolf being pulled. Left-hander Sam Drumheller was sent in to face Burton, who was still looking for his first home run of the season.
He found it.
First pitch, Burton hit a bomb — A grand slam far over the left-field fence, reclaiming the lead for the Wolverines.
“I just tried to get my best swing off,” Burton said. “This team is gonna hit the ball, and we’re gonna score in bunches.”
And they continued to score bunches in the eighth inning.
Another three walks loaded the bases for junior designated hitter Jimmy Obertop, who singled to move every man 90 feet. Junior left fielder Tito Flores then knocked in two more runs with a blooping double into the right-field corner.
With one more run squeaking in on a groundout to first, Michigan ended the eighth inning up 14-7.
Despite this impressive offensive showing, FAU refused to go down without a fight. Clawing back immediately with a six-run bottom of the eighth to leave the Wolverines teetering on a one-run lead as the ninth inning began.
They did not teeter for long.
Michigan put up another six runs in the top of the ninth inning, half of which came courtesy of graduate third baseman Matt Frey who crushed a three-run bomb — his first home run of the season — to the trees behind the right-field wall.
Eventually, Michigan junior left-hander Jacob Denner managed to douse the spirited Owl offense, shutting them down to capture the win for his team.