Last weekend, when Brandon Lawrence saw game action for the first time, his first-pitch home run did little to close a hopelessly large deficit against Maryland. When the freshman infielder took the field on Sunday against Ohio State, the circumstances were different — Michigan already held an insurmountable lead — but the result was the same. He pinch-ran and scored in the eighth, and drew a run-scoring walk later in the same inning after his teammates batted around.
Thanks to 5.2 innings of two-run ball by Jacob Denner and a punishing team offense, the No. 25 Michigan baseball team (15-7 Big Ten) turned a pitcher’s duel into a 16-7 blowout and claimed the series win over Ohio State (13-9).
The sophomore right-hander Denner struggled in his first pass through the Buckeyes’ lineup, needing 50 pitches to get through the first two innings. Although Ohio State’s hitters stacked up the quality at-bats, working deep into counts and fouling off pitch after pitch, they wound up with just one run to show for their effort. But the Wolverines struggled to get anything going against Buckeyes starter Jack Neely, leaving Ohio State with an early lead.
The rain that started to fall in the middle of the third inning worked to Michigan’s advantage. Neely struggled to grip the ball, loading the bases with a hit batter and two walks. Buckeyes’ relief pitcher Griffan Smith replaced him and allowed two runs on two shallow singles. Before the Wolverines could do any more damage, though, Smith struck out sophomore designated hitter Ted Burton to end the inning with the bases loaded.
By focusing on his changeup and trusting his defense to tend to the many fly balls he induced, Denner started settling in during the third, getting ahead of hitters and retiring them with fewer pitches.
“The way he settled things down and was able to put zeros up and have more efficient innings and keep his pitch count to where he could get to the sixth inning was huge,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “That’s almost a veteran-type presence out there, for just a second year player.”
In the fourth, the Buckeyes attempted to score a runner from first on a double, but redshirt sophomore center fielder Jordon Rogers and fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems relayed the ball to fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur in time to make a play at the plate.
“The tandem relay was massive from a momentum standpoint,” Bakich said. “To throw out that runner at the plate and get the momentum back on our side, that was a huge play in the game.”
After manufacturing another run via a walk, sacrifice bunt and single in the fourth, Michigan widened the lead with a hit parade in the fifth. Fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta kicked off the inning with a lead-off home run before his teammates loaded the bases on a hit batter, a walk and a long single, but unlike the third inning, the rally didn’t end there. Sophomore outfielder Clark Elliott’s two-run double and an ensuing sacrifice fly scored an additional three runs for Michigan.
The Buckeyes ate into Michigan’s lead for the rest of the game but never threatened it. A run-scoring triple in the sixth inning chased Denner from the game, and graduate right-hander Joe Pace allowed a run in the seventh.
The Wolverines padded their lead with a nine-run, 12-quality-at-bat eighth inning, batting around and involving previously quiet bats like junior second baseman Cam Hart’s in the process. As the inning wore on, rain began falling again, and Ohio State pitcher Tyler Kean struggled to throw strikes, issuing four straight walks and walking in two runs.
“We did have the three-run home run (by redshirt junior designated hitter Danny Zimmerman),” Bakich said. “But the other six runs were just guys getting on and running the bases, one quality at bat after the next.”
Down to their last licks, the Buckeyes scored four runs off of freshman left-hander Connor O’Halloran but couldn’t pull within double digits before junior infielder Riley Bertram fielded the last out, ending the game and the series.
“It feels good,” Zimmerman said. “And I’d say everybody else on our team and people wearing the block ‘M’ would say the same.”