Wednesday’s matchup against Toledo was supposed to be a tune-up for the Michigan baseball team as they head into a big weekend series against Minnesota. That’s exactly what it was.
Behind strong a defensive performance and consistently solid pitching out of the bullpen, the Wolverines rolled past the Rockets to a comfortable 8-2 victory.
“I thought all the pitchers that got in there today did fine,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We played good defense, and we got some timely hits. We were able to put the pressure on them with some stolen bases. We created some scoring opportunities. Overall, it wasn’t our best day, but we’ll certainly take it.”
The game stayed close through the first three innings, but Michigan got on the board first in the bottom of the second. Redshirt senior left fielder Miles Lewis reached on a single to left field, and eventually came home on a single from sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren.
Toledo answered with a run of its own in the top of the third inning. John Servello reached first on a leadoff single, and after staying alive on a throwing error from senior second baseman Ako Thomas and taking third on a sacrifice bunt from Trace Hatfield, he scored on an RBI groundout from Darryn Davis.
The Wolverines were unshaken, though. Freshman left-hander Walker Cleveland ended the inning on the next batter he faced, and sophomore catcher Joe Donovan homered to lead off the bottom of the third inning, putting Michigan back on top. Cleveland then retired the side in the top of the fourth as the Wolverines’ defense faultlessly backed him up.
“I just trust my pitchers to get me ground balls,” Blomgren said. “I just try to make the plays most of the time, try to limit my errors as much as possible, and thank my pitchers for giving me ground balls.”
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Wolverines broke the game open. After Michigan loaded the bases, Brewer scored on a wild pitch. Senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr and Blomgren each notched RBI, scoring Lewis and senior third baseman Blake Nelson, respectively.
The Rockets showed some fight in the top of the fifth, putting two runners on base off a pair of singles from Servello and Chris Meyers, but redshirt freshman right-hander Walker Cleveland calmly got the Wolverines out of the inning without any additional damage.
“We did have some good momentum plays on defense,” Bakich said. “It’s just ball security. We’ve been talking a lot about ball security, playing fast, accurate catch and just taking care of the baseball.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Michigan held onto its momentum. After singling to right and stealing second, sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu scored on a base hit from Brewer, who then stole second and scored on a wild pitch. After three straight walks, right-hander Kyle Bischoff hit Blomgren to score Lewis, bringing the score to 8-1.
Toledo took advantage when redshirt freshman right-hander Isaiah Paige struggled in the bottom of the sixth as Davis singled, advancing on a passed ball by Donovan before scoring off a single from second baseman Riley Campbell. But the Wolverines ended the inning as sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith struck out two Rocket batters and forced a third to ground out.
After a virtual offensive take-off in the middle of the game, both teams settled down in the last third of the game; the last three innings were scoreless.
The Wolverines will now look ahead to their weekend series against Minnesota, likely their toughest competition in the Big Ten, and one of the more difficult matchups of their season.
“It’ll be a big challenge for us,” Bakich said. “Against a great team like Minnesota, it’s going to come down to pitching, defense and timely hitting, so the team that plays the best is going to come away with the series this weekend.”