Brandon Lawrence had waited two years for his first college at-bat, and the freshman infielder got it in the top of the ninth inning against Maryland on Monday night. With his family in the stands, he homered to deep right field.
It’s a moment Michigan coach Erik Bakich thinks Lawrence will never forget, but one of few things the rest of the Wolverines will remember — at least positively. The solo home run pulled the No. 25 Michigan baseball team (13-6 Big Ten) back within 10 runs of the Terrapins, capping off a 17-7 loss and a 2-2 weekend series split against Maryland (9-10 Big Ten) and Northwestern (10-8). Monday’s loss was an outlier compared to the first three games of the weekend, when Michigan rode its biggest strengths — pitching, defense and timely hitting, according to Bakich — to two wins.
Redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar earned another quality start on Friday night, allowing only two runs and three hits in 6.2 innings, but a strong start by the Wildcats’ Tyler Uberstine kept the score tied at two before the seventh-inning stretch. Redshirt junior outfielder Danny Zimmerman led off the bottom of the seventh with a pinch-hit walk, and fifth-year catcher Christian Molfetta singled. Fifth-year transfer catcher Griffin Mazur topped off the rally with a first-pitch home run, giving the Wolverines a three-run lead they’d hold.
Redshirt junior left-hander Ben Dragani took the ball for the second game against Northwestern, and like the other starters who succeeded Hajjar this weekend, Dragani couldn’t record even close to a quality start. His four innings and three runs did keep Michigan within shouting distance of the Wildcats, but outs on the basepaths cut rallies in the first and seventh innings short.
Down 4-1 in the ninth, the Wolverines quickly loaded the bases on a walk and a pair of singles. But not even the red-hot redshirt sophomore outfielder Jordon Rogers or Zimmerman, who was summoned to pinch-hit once again, could clear the table.
“We had put a good amount of quality at-bats together and just made some hard outs,” Zimmerman said. “We started that inning by loading the bases. We can’t wait around to the ninth inning. We can’t always win in the ninth; we’ve got to do it earlier.”
Michigan didn’t heed that advice in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston went four innings and allowed four runs, but a grand slam by sophomore catcher Jimmy Obertop neutralized Maryland’s early offensive damage. Michigan scratched out a run on a squeeze play in the seventh inning to take a 5-4 lead.
“The wind was blowing in, and we felt good about (fifth-year transfer shortstop) Benjamin Sems getting a squeeze down,” Bakich said. “He executed it perfectly. There have been a couple of times when we’ve left runners on base. It was a tie game, and we usually like to play for the big inning, but this particular case of where we were in the game and the time of the game and how the game was going, it just seemed like trying to play for a run was the way to go.”
The Terrapins responded with a game-tying single in their half of the seventh, and with the game still knotted at five in the ninth, Bakich called on Zimmerman to pinch-hit once again.
Although he faced mid to upper-90s velocity from Maryland reliever David Falco, Zimmerman was looking to hit a fastball. He did just that, belting a solo home run that gave Michigan a 6-5 lead that held.
Then came Monday’s game, during which Maryland turned the basepaths into a carousel for 3.5 hours. Senior right-hander Blake Beers allowed four runs in 3.1 innings, and the trail of relievers that followed him let in 13 additional runs.
“Our bullpen has been really good for the first 18 games of the year, so I’m not going to put too much stock into what happened today,” Bakich said. “We just couldn’t stop the hot-hitting Maryland team today; they were on fire.”
Pitching and defensive struggles eliminated Michigan well before the final pitch had been thrown. In light of that, Bakich emptied the bench and gave Brandon Lawrence the opportunity to give the team a silver lining.