They certainly looked like conference leaders today.
The Michigan baseball team (30-11 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) moved up to the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten rankings after losses from Nebraska and Indiana on Friday. The team lived up to its new –– possibly short-lived –– position Saturday afternoon, winning 10-1 against Rutgers (17-23, 7-7) to bring the weekend series count to 2-0 and showcasing its balance between offense and defense.
After two scoreless innings and two quick outs in the top of the third, Rutgers kicked off the scoring when a single to center field from Chris Brito sent Kevin Blum home, where he missed Wolverines’ sophomore catcher Joe Donovan by an inch.
The bottom of the inning saw Michigan hit its offensive stride, though. After sophomore left fielder Jordan Nwogu reached second base off a fielding error and a wild pitch then advanced to third on a groundout from sophomore outfielder Jesse Franklin, junior center fielder Jordan Brewer fired off a homer to left field to take the lead 2-1.
“Thank god for Jesse Franklin –– he made my job easy,” Brewer said. “All I had to do was put it up in the air and let the wind do the rest
“It was really nice to have everyone doing their jobs today and it allowed me to do mine even better.”
Consecutive singles from Donovan and senior second baseman Ako Thomas then sent senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr and senior third baseman Blake Nelson home to notch another two runs for the Wolverines before the end of the inning, widening their margin to three runs. Michigan was helped by scattershot pitching from Rutgers’s Tommy Genuario, who despite walking only twelve batters all season pitched four walks in the first three innings alone.
This seemed to stimulate the Rutgers fielding effort, which held the Wolverines to two 1-2-3 innings in a row.
In turn, Rutgers remained at one run despite some close calls. Strong pitching throughout Saturday afternoon prevented the Scarlet Knights from ever gaining much of a foothold.
“Tommy (Henry) gave us a quality start,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “All of the relievers that went in there after had nice and clean innings as well.”
Henry, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of the offense in his pitching effort.
“It makes it easy to pitch when the offense brings us out to a big lead and score a lot of runs like they did today,” Henry said. “Because then the defense and I just have to keep things that way.”
The bottom of the sixth saw the Wolverines return to their third-inning form, scoring in three consecutive at-bats. First, Donovan scored off a single from Nwogu through the left side. Junior outfielder Christian Bullock then leveraged a fly out from Franklin –– in the DH spot today as he nurses a hamstring issue –– to reach home. A final single from Brewer sent Nwogu home and brought the score to 7-1.
Bakich was pleased with Michigan’s ability to score runs, as well as how well it was complemented by the rest of the team.
“We did a really good job of getting guys to third base with less than two outs as well as scoring from third base once we were there,” Bakich said. “Like in a football game you play well with offense, defense, and special teams. I thought we played well today between offense, defense, and pitching.”
In the seventh inning Donovan made contact with an inside pitch to launch a three-run homer out to left field and further widen the Wolverines’ lead.
For the rest of the game Michigan continued to hold the Scarlet Knights’ hitters and retain their margin. The Wolverines’ pitching and fielding ensured Rutgers never exceeded six at-bats in one frame and forced 1-2-3 innings in the sixth, seventh, and eigth. This combination of a productive offense as well as an efficient defense allowed Michigan to dominate for the second day in a row.