The 2020 season started the way the No. 8 Michigan baseball team (3-1) hoped the 2019 season would end.
Trailing by one run in the top of the ninth inning, first baseman Matt Schmidt stepped up to the plate. For the fifth-year senior, this opportunity had been a long time coming.
In the first game of the season in a rematch against the defending national champions, the story wrote itself. But Schmidt wanted to write the ending.
Schmidt blasted a go ahead two run home run off of one of the nation’s premiere closers to give the Wolverines a lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 4-3 victory over No. 1 Vanderbilt.
“It was kind of a surreal experience,” Schmidt said. “We fought and competed and got the win against a good Vanderbilt team. … It was kinda good to get revenge there.”
Michigan rounded out the MLB4 Collegiate Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., with wins over Cal Poly, 8-5, and No. 3 Arizona State, 5-0, and a loss in its final game of the weekend against UConn, 7-1.
On the pitching side in the opening game, junior right-hander Jeff Criswell got the start and fifth-year senior left-hander Benjamin Keizer earned the win. Keizer came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning and finished with 1.2 shutout innings and gave up no runs.
The pitching drama was saved for redshirt sophomore right-hander Isaiah Paige. Paige entered in the ninth inning after Schmidt’s heroics put Michigan back on top. The final three outs proved to be the hardest of the night as Paige gave up a single and hit a pair of batters. Despite this, he didn’t allow any runs and earned the save.
The first game against the Commodores to open the weekend garnered the most attention — and rightfully so — but the three remaining games provided insight into what the rest of the season might hold.
“There were so many different breakout candidates that could be on the horizon,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “Just guys that had their moments in different games that could be positive contributors for the entire season.”
In the Wolverines’ second game of the weekend against Cal Poly, junior right-hander Blake Beers, with the help of strong infield defensive play, didn’t allow a baserunner until the bottom of the fourth inning. Beers earned the win with no earned runs and only four hits.
The top of the batting order provided strong hitting with three base hits from junior outfielder and leadoff hitter Jordan Nwogu. Junior shortstop Jack Blomgren added four hits of his own, helping Michigan to an 8-5 win.
Down the stretch of the game, the Wolverines’ defense started to become a little sloppy and allowed several extra bases. Bakich thought the game could have easily gotten out of hand with all the added baserunners, but freshman right-hander Cameron Weston came out of the bullpen to earn his first career save.
After its win over the Mustangs, Michigan immediately boarded the bus to head to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for its third game of the weekend, against Arizona State — an added game that only made the Wolverines’ weeked more tough.
The situation wasn’t the most conducive environment for redshirt freshman left-hander Steven Hajjar to start his first career game. But Hajjar took the game in stride, getting more comfortable as the innings went on and earning his first career win in the 5-0 victory. He pitched six innings with only three hits and seven strikeouts.
In arguably its most impressive win of the weekend, Michigan looked toward players on last year’s bench. Sophomore left-hander Jack White pitched three scoreless innings in the relief effort. Senior pinch hitter Dominic Clementi provided the final boost for Michigan when he hit a two-run double in the ninth inning.
“New guys stepping up, I think that was kind of the storyline throughout the entire weekend,” Criswell said.
The Wolverines played their final, most physcially and mentally tough game against UConn. The Huskies scored first in the first inning and, despite a small rally in the fourth inning led by Nwogu and redshirt sophomore Danny Zimmerman, they wouldn’t relinquish their lead, as the Wolverines fell, 7-1.
“This game was a learning lesson,” Bakich said. “It was good for them to experience how they felt being emotionally drained and physically drained and still try to have to compete with that, cause that’s how it’s going to feel months from now.”
Ultimately, Michigan finished its opening weekend 3-1 with two wins over top ranked teams in the country.
“I think we knew going into the weekend, if we came out of this thing 4-0 we’re probably not as good as it seems,” Bakich said. “If we came out 0-4 we’re not as bad as we seem. (There were a) lot of takeaways of growth opportunities.”