Michigan struggled to get its offense going against Rutgers. Luke Hales/Daily.  Buy this photo.

Redshirt sophomore center fielder Jordon Rogers caught the shallow fly ball and tried to throw out the runner who tagged from third. His throw was on time, but not on line, and the run scored, expanding Rutgers’ lead to three in the fourth inning. 

Against a 7.2-inning two-hitter by Scarlet Knights’ starter Brent Teller and an aggressive Rutgers offense, the insurance run cost the No. 23 Michigan baseball team (19-9 Big Ten) the 3-2 loss and the series.

The Wolverines had a prime scoring chance in the first inning. They loaded the bases on a walk and two infield errors, setting the table for the heart of their order. The average run expectancy of that situation is a little over two runs, but Teller made sure Michigan would come away with zero, retiring the next three hitters he faced.

“I think we need to get back to the basics (of) situational hitting,” sophomore first baseman Ted Burton said. “Sometimes our swings got a little big, when in reality we didn’t need too much.”

Sophomore left-hander Jacob Denner got off to a similarly strong start, allowing just one hit over his first two innings. His luck changed in the third, when he gave up back-to-back hits to deep left field — the first off the wall for a double and the second over it for a two-run home run. 

Rutgers put two runners on base in the fourth and fifth innings, but wound up for just one run — which was scored off of the fourth-inning sacrifice fly — to show for its efforts. 

Michigan responded to the constant threat of a bunt by running several bunt defenses, including a wheel play, in which fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta charged toward home plate while fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems ran to cover third. The play worked well, as Michigan forced Rutgers to swing away. Denner helped limit the damage by striking out the final two batters of the fifth inning. 

“We put up a zero that inning,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said of the fifth. “I thought that was a huge momentum swing, but we didn’t capitalize on it.”

Teller dominated the Michigan hitters in his second and third times through the lineup, getting them to chase his irresistible high fastball. 

“On one side of it, you could tip your cap to Teller for locating his fastball and his curveball to right handers, his changeup to lefties,” Bakich said. “But on the other side of it, we have to be better with our approach; (we made) too much weak contact with less than two strikes.”

The Wolverines’ bullpen responded in kind, with redshirt sophomore left-hander Ben Dragani and senior right-hander Blake Beers combining to throw three shutout innings, aided by sophomore first baseman Ted Burton’s strong defense.

Michigan broke up Teller’s no-hitter and scored in the seventh, when Sems walked and sophomore first baseman Ted Burton crushed a hanging curveball over the left-centerfield fence, cutting the lead to one. 

After an eighth-inning rally came up short and junior right-hander Willie Weiss threw a scoreless ninth, the Wolverines sent the bottom of their order to bat in the bottom of the final inning. Burton hit a seeing-eye single and sophomore designated hitter Jimmy Obertop, back in the lineup for the first time since he injured his knee against Ohio State, drove a fly ball to deep center field.

It died on the warning track. A groundout later, Michigan lost the game and the series. 

After a strong start to the season offensively, Obertop’s injury and several slumping hitters have left Michigan unable to separate against weaker opponents recently. The quiet bats will have to wake up if the Wolverines want to compete for a Big Ten title.

“I think this is a kick in the ass.” Burton said.