With the bases loaded in the 11th inning, the score was tied 5-5.
Jordan Brewer came to the plate with a chance to win the game and extend the No. 19 Michigan baseball team’s (37-13 overall, 15-5 Big Ten) lead in the Big Ten title race over second place Indiana (33-18, 14-7).
The 25th-ranked Hoosiers shifted to an unconventional defense with only two outfielders and five infielders. The ploy seemed to work as the junior outfielder hit a ground ball directly at infielder Drew Ashley, but the ball had to be smothered by Ashley forcing a rushed throw to home. The ball landed short of home plate skipping into the chestpad of the catcher allowing senior infielder Ako Thomas to score the walk-off run to cap off a dramatic final game.
“Got a good start from Jeff Criswell but offensively just very resilient,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Got a lot of two-out RBIs, lot of clutch hitting and came away with the victory today which was huge.”
The 6-5 win on Sunday afternoon prevented Indiana from completing the series sweep and allowed the Wolverines’ seniors to grab a win in their final regular season game at Ray Fisher Stadium.
On Friday night, the Hoosiers jumped out to an early lead in the first inning. Junior right-hander Karl Kauffman walked the second batter he faced. With two outs outfielder Elijah Dunham came through with a clutch double down the right-field line. The runner on first advanced to third, but a throwing error by Brewer allowed him to score.
Indiana never looked back as their clutch hitting propelled them to a 10-4 victory. Michigan continued to struggle on defense throughout the game finishing with four errors.
“Overall we didn’t play well on Friday,” Bakich said. “We made too many errors. We made some mistake pitches that they capitalized on, and I thought our offense was uncompetitive.”
Kauffman’s mistakes marred an otherwise solid performance which lasted six innings.
Junior left-hander Tommy Henry started on Saturday afternoon. His recent struggles on the mound continued. Henry only lasted 4.2 innings and was pulled after back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning.
“They just had a great approach against Karl (Kauffman) and Tommy (Henry) and they made each of them pay for their mistakes that they threw,” Bakich said. “That’s what good teams do. It’s a good learning lesson from that standpoint that we gotta execute our pitches better.”
After Henry was replaced, he didn’t get much help from his relievers. Redshirt-junior left-hander Benjamin Keizer and freshman right-hander Willie Weiss gave up three more runs combined. The pitching struggles proved to be the difference in the 10-8 loss for the Wolverines.
“Saturday I thought we competed really well offensively,” Bakich said. “I thought we played good defense, we just couldn’t stop them. They’ve got a very good offense, they’ve got some firepower in their offense with a home run threat at any time. The long ball hurt us and five of their runs came via home run, and that was the difference in the game. And every time we tried to capture the momentum back, they had an answer.”
Although Michigan lost the series they retained control of first place in the Big Ten. The pivotal win on Sunday extended their lead to 1.5 games over Indiana.
“Disappointed that we lost the series but happy with today’s victory and sets up for some big games this week,” Bakich said. “The (title) race is still very much alive and it’s going to take our best effort these next four games to come out on top.”