The game was over as soon as Michigan junior center fielder Jonathan Engelmann hit a run-scoring single in the first inning.
The Wolverines (9-0 Big Ten, 22-11 overall) would go on to score four more runs in the inning on their way to a 19-5 beat-down of Penn State (1-12, 8-23), the worst team in the Big Ten to date.
Despite Penn State starting their best pitcher, right hander Justin Hagenman, Michigan put up seven runs in just one inning and a third before the righty was pulled. Hagenman entered the contest with a 2.92 earned run average — good for eighth best in the Big Ten among starters — but left with a new ERA of 4.36.
“He just didn’t have a good day, he’s a good pitcher,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “… We had eight quality at-bats in a row in the first inning and we had nine quality at-bats in a row in the second inning. That’s really hard to do. It’s hard to string that many good at-bats together, so I was very impressed with that especially against a very good pitcher.”
Eight different Wolverines registered at least one run batted-in, highlighted by junior third baseman Blake Nelson’s game-leading six RBI. It was these hits that contributed to Michigan’s best offensive showing of the season.
“I think we did a great job of starting hot,” Engelmann said. “We strung a lot of quality at-bats together. … A lot of guys waiting for their pitch and hitting hard when they get it. It’s fun to play when you’re scoring a lot of runs.”
Engelmann, who sits in the top-15 in the Big Ten for batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, led the Wolverines’ lineup, going 2-for-3 with three RBI and a homerun.
A towering fly ball to left-center field in the second inning gave Engelmann his fifth homerun of the season and extended Michigan’s early lead to six.
What cannot be overlooked from the Wolverines’ Friday evening performance is the stellar defense and pitching put on display. Michigan surrendered all five runs and registered its one error with two outs in the ninth inning, revealing the dominance of the Wolverine starters.
“You can’t leave out (sophomore left hander) Tommy Henry,” Engelmann said. “He’s just electric and lights-out every time he’s up there. From a defensive perspective, it’s easy to play defense when they’re not really hitting the ball.”
Henry, who is 7-0 in his 10 starts, hurled five dominant innings of one-hit baseball while recording eight strikeouts.
“He’s an excellent tone setter for our team on Friday nights because we know what we’re gonna get,” Bakich said about Henry. “We’re gonna get a guy who’s gonna pound the zone. He’ll be on the attack. He’s gonna execute his pitches with a lot of consistency and confidence and do a great job giving a blueprint to Ben Dragani and all the rest of the pitchers that we get in there.“
On the defensive end, the Wolverines’ game can be summed up by an incredible play made by junior second baseman Ako Thomas.
In the third inning, with Michigan already up 10-0 and a runner on first with one out, a hard ground ball was hit to Thomas’ left. Instead of letting it get through the gap, Thomas threw his body on the ground, gathered the ball and fired it to second base to begin the double play.
Despite the score, Thomas put his body on the line for his team — a testament to his game in general and to the Wolverines’ ferocity on the day. He ran off the field flashing a bright-white smile from ear-to-ear.
“He’s a spark plug, he’s an ignitor, he’s a catalyst, he’s a momentum creator,” Bakich said about Thomas. “He single handedly can inject positive energy onto the entire field with his play and that smile. Those are things that you always wanna see and plays like that, they’re game-changers because they just eliminate all momentum from the other team and keeps it on our side.”
At the end of a very well-played game for Michigan, the only number that really mattered was 18 — the number of games their current win-streak is now at.
“Any win, whether it’s a nail-bit(ing) one-run win, when the Wolverines come away with a win it’s an outstanding feeling where you can go home that night and say ‘I got a win for this university,’” Engelmann said. “It’s pretty special.”