Northwestern was hanging tough with Michigan in the sixth inning.
The Wolverines were holding onto a 3-1 lead that had just been cut into by an RBI single by Wildcats infielder Shawn Goosenberg. With two outs, catcher Michael Trautwein ripped a grounder which passed a diving senior infielder Jimmy Kerr, but senior infielder Ako Thomas had him covered. Thomas’ dive was successful as he fielded the ball and tossed it to first for the out. Thomas effectively ended Northwestern’s comeback bid as the Michigan baseball team (26-11 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) won 4-1 over the Wildcats (16-18, 5-5) on Saturday afternoon.
“Across the board everybody was making plays,” said junior right-hander Karl Kauffman. “Ako, Jimmy, (Blake Nelson), (Jack Blomgren) even Joe (Donovan) behind the dish. Everyone came ready to play today and we were just playing a clean game and that’s huge for us. My side (is) just trying to limit walks and limit the freebies. It’s been a focus for us and today we did pretty good executing that.”
The Wolverines seemed to rectify any defensive issues that they had last weekend. The entire infield was on the ground at some point. Kerr made two tricky plays at first with hard-hit ground balls and Nelson and Blomgren got outs on high-bouncing choppers.
The defense complimented a strong pitching day out of Kauffmann, who allowed a single run and four hits in seven innings of work and earned the win. He was solid all day and didn’t have to escape many jams.
“It was kinda commanding fastball both sides of the plate,” Kauffman said. “And being able to play a slider off of it. Coming out early and attacking hitters after (the) Ohio State game. Just trying to be efficient and really just trying to get as deep into the game as possible. That was kind of the priority for everybody.”
The majority of hitting for Michigan came in the first inning. Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu was the spark with a leadoff single. Nwogu as a threat on the bases clearly affected Quinn Lavelle’s rhythm, as he proceeded to throw four consecutive balls to Blomgren. Junior outfielder Dominic Clementi stepped up with Nwogu in scoring position and delivered a double off the wall which scored Nwogu.
The Wolverines weren’t done yet.
With two outs and runners on second and third, Kerr hit a grounder to the gap between first and second base. Goosenberg fielded the ball and appeared to have an easy out at first. Goosenberg instead fired the ball low and to the right of Wildcats first baseman Willie Bourbon, allowing Blomgren and Clementi to score, opening up a 3-0 lead.
“I thought it was a typical opening series offensive effort facing good pitching,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “On days like the first game of the series it’s gonna come down to pitching and defense, it typically does. When you have a big inning and you take advantage of an error that’s huge. You score any way you can.”
The rest of the game, Lavelle and Kauffmann battled back and forth. Lavelle held Michigan scoreless for four straight innings after the first. A wild pitch allowed senior outfielder Miles Lewis to score, adding an insurance run in the sixth inning.
Kauffmann ended his day with a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh. Junior left-hander Ben Keizer replaced him in the eighth, allowing one hit before Willie Weiss came on in the ninth to notch the save.
“That’s all you can ask for (in the) opening game of a tough series is pitching and defense,” Bakich said. “Very pleased we got a quality start with a doubleheader tomorrow to go deep into the game and get us to the eighth inning was huge. And Keizer and Weiss having efficient innings. Both being able to come back tomorrow as well. Just a great effort from our pitching and our defensive standpoint.”