In the Michigan baseball team’s second midweek game of the season on Tuesday, it hoped to avoid the same pitching follies against Western Michigan that it had in the first.
Initially, it wasn’t obvious if it could.
Sophomore right-hander Blake Beers had his second start of the season — in his first, he cruised through until the third inning before he began to struggle. A feeling of déjà vu spread through the stadium as he did so again.
After making a great play to snag a ground ball for the first out, Beers proceeded to walk a batter, allow a double and an RBI single before he hit Bronco Blake Dunn in the head to load the bases in his last act.
Freshman left-hander Walker Cleveland came in, limiting Western Michigan to just two more runs after a single and a walk.
Despite the follies of the third inning, Michigan (14-4) trumped Western Michigan (6-13) 12-5, behind an explosive offense.
The Wolverines’ offensive onslaught began in the bottom of the first inning. Three walks by Broncos pitcher Jack Szott loaded the bases, bringing an early visit to the mound by manager Billy Gernon to instill confidence in the pitcher.
Szott got his control back for senior infielder Blake Nelson, working his way back to a 2-2 count before inducing a ground ball to third base, only to watch the ball bounce over his third baseman Jimmy Roche’s glove. Two runs scored on the error and Michigan had an early lead.
The lead was snuffed out when Beers let in three runs in the third.
The Wolverines, though, would not stay down. In the bottom of the third, they recaptured the lead with a well-timed hit-and-run that put both runners in a perfect position to go up 4-3 on Nelson’s single to left field.
From there on out, it was all Michigan. Cleveland clamped down on Western Michigan, ending the day with his first collegiate win and only one hit allowed.
“He’s only thrown a third of an inning all year and he came in and settled the game down for us,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “The game was very much in question and I thought he did a great job of coming in and putting up zeros to let our offense separate and put the game in the bag for us.”
Added Cleveland: “The team played really well today. They had my back the whole way, the batters put in a ton of quality bats together and swing to put us out ahead.”
Despite his humility, Cleveland was all smiles. As soon as the interview was over, he quickly shuffled back into the locker room to text his parents the good news.
The offense had a field day — in the fourth inning, junior infielder Jordan Brewer launched a two-run home run over the tall brick wall in left field to extend the lead to 6-3.
A 45-minute bottom of the sixth inning put the game firmly out of hand after the Wolverines scored five runs and go up 12-3, allowing Bakich to start putting in reserves.
“Playing time is one of those things that’s you’re fair but not equal,” Bakich said. “It’s great when you can get a wide margin in a game like that where everyone can get an opportunity or everyone can get an opportunity to get some reps. And those are precious, those are valuable, because not every game is like that.”
With a dominant offensive display and competent pitching, the last game of the five-game home stand ended up being no different than the games that preceded it.