Entering the ninth inning, the Michigan baseball team had reason to feel confident.
Despite late-game surges from Ohio State in the previous two games, the Wolverines had held on to win both. On Sunday, they were up two runs as junior left-hander Jacob Denner came back out to the mound.
To that point in the game, Denner had thrown 1.2 innings with ease. He was also the pitcher who successfully halted the Buckeyes’ surge the day before. It seemed that Michigan was closing in on their third consecutive series sweep.
But that didn’t last long.
Ohio State right fielder Mitchell Okuley obliterated the second pitch he saw for a leadoff solo home run. The tone started to change.
Denner seemed to swiftly steady himself, getting the next two batters to ground out. But as they had all weekend, the Buckeyes fought to the last strike.
And this time, down to their last strike, the Buckeyes took Denner deep again. Left fielder Trey Lipsey belted the ball over the wall to tie the game at five apiece.
Denner has been a more recent bullpen addition. He has been a starter most of the year but struggled to stay consistent through longer starts. Out of the bullpen on the other hand, Denner has performed well. Before Sunday he had yet to give up a run in relief.
“Up until today it’s (been) working,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He wants to help the team and whatever role.”
On Sunday, it didn’t work.
After the second home run, Ohio State center fielder Kade Kern stepped up to the plate. After falling behind to a 0-2 count, he got a piece of the ball and foul tipped it to end the inning — or so the Wolverines thought.
They trotted off the field ready to go back to the plate. But upon appeal from the Buckeyes’ coaching staff, the umpires called the team back onto the field. The call was made that the catcher did not secure the ball so it was foul.
The inning continued.
Kern took full advantage of his revived at bat and hit the very next pitch over the infield to keep the inning alive. And after walking the next batter, Denner was pulled for junior right-hander Noah Rennard.
The very next batter slapped yet another single into the outfield, scoring the eventual game-winning run.
Ohio State had seized control of the momentum, and it would not relinquish it like the last two games.
Michigan fought, as junior right fielder Clark Elliott and fifth-year center fielder Joe Stewart both reached base. But a pair of strikeouts and a bullet of a lineout ended their comeback bid.
“That’s just how the game works,” Elliott said. “(Fifth-year senior third baseman Matt) Frey lines out on a 105 (mph) line drive laser, you know, stuff like that kind of happens. That’s just baseball.”
In the first two games of the series, the Wolverines were able to stem the tide in the later innings when the Buckeyes rallied.
But Sunday they were swept away.