As the ball sailed through the air straight towards junior right fielder Clark Elliott, it looked as though the fourth inning had finally come to a close. However, Elliott dropped the ball,allowing yet another man to cross the plate, stretching the deficit to five runs in favor of Rutgers.
As messy as the inning was, it was just a snippet of the mistakes in an ugly game.
The Michigan baseball team (28-24 overall, 12-11 Big Ten) came back to beat the Scarlet Knights (40-14, 16-7), 9-7. With their third consecutive win, the Wolverines are heating up at the right time and showing resilience heading into the postseason.
“You’ve got to understand this team is like Rocky Balboa,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He’s been beaten and bloodied and battered and knocked to the mat many times, 24 times, and we get back up every single time. I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of the group.”
After a pristine first inning for the Scarlet Knights, beginning the game with eight straight strikes, easy mistakes plagued them in the second. A wild pitch allowed junior second baseman Ted Burton to advance from second to third and a throwing error on a single tied the game, 1-1.
Junior left-hander Jacob Denner found himself in the first real jam of the game in the third. A double play ball that would have ended the inning hit his foot allowing the runners to reach base safely and opening up the floodgates. Denner allowed three consecutive two-out hits — which Rutgers used to build momentum and scored four runs.
As sloppy as Michigan’s mistakes were, the tide quickly turned as Rutgers began a series of snafus in the bottom of the fourth starting with right-hander Ben Gorski’s command issues. Facing just five batters, he allowed two walks and threw two wild pitches — both of which allowed men to score. After Gorski was pulled, the next pitcher finally found the zone, but maybe a little too much of it, giving up a three run homer to graduate center fielder Joe Stewart on just his second pitch. With it, the Wolverines tied the game at seven.
“There’s one inning where we scored two runs on wild pitches,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “It was a two run game, so obviously those were huge. All the runs are huge against a good team.”
From the fifth inning on, the Wolverine bullpen clamped the Scarlet Knight bats to just two hits and zero runs, including four strikeouts in three innings by senior right-hander Willie Weiss.
Junior catcher Jimmy Obertop pushed Michigan past Rutgers, completing the comeback in the sixth inning. His double bounced off the sprinting center fielder’s glove to drive in one more run.
In the seventh, the fourth Scarlet Knight wild pitch of the game allowed Burton to advance to second, a mistake he would make the pitcher pay for as he later scored off of a bunt. The 9-7 lead would hold.
“It’s huge,” Weiss said. “Kind of like freshman year, (we) caught lightning in a bottle. (You) never know what could happen when we get hot at the end of the year. So I’m really excited to see this team go into the big 10 tournament and hopefully stay hot.”
In a game of six wild pitches and three errors, Michigan was able to sneak away with a crucial victory for Big Ten tournament seeding.