The Michigan baseball team brought out the brooms for two weekends in a row, but they had to keep them in the closet against Ohio State.
The Wolverines (22-16 overall, 8-4 Big Ten) lost to the Buckeyes (13-22, 3-10), 6-5, after a collapse on the mound. Michigan’s pitchers gave up five runs in the final three innings to give away the game.
But those pitching struggles didn’t show up early on. Both starting arms dominated the first three innings as batters were held to a combined two hits in 20 plate appearances, compared to seven strikeouts between both teams. The Buckeyes’ own dangerous lead-off hitter, shortstop Marcus Ernst was the only man to find success by notching both a single and a double.
After an error by junior second baseman Ted Burton with two outs, Ohio State finally broke the stalemate. Sophomore right-hander Chase Allen had to face Ernst yet again, this time with the bases loaded.
Facing a dangerous situation, Allen made him whiff with a slider and stopped the bleeding at just a flesh wound of one run.
With two runners on, two outs and two strikes in the fifth inning, junior left-fielder Joey Velazquez had a chance to strike back. With by far the least amount of plate experience in the lineup, intense pressure rested on his shoulders. Velazquez lasered the ball down the right field line and snatched the lead with two RBIs. All of the Wolverines runs scored with two outs looming over them.
“Our training sessions usually try to simulate above game speed type environments,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “So the game slows down but it’s just a repetition thing. We’ve talked about how important two-out RBIs are and being able to execute high pressure, high leverage situations. We just got to replicate that environment as much as we can in training — which we do — and we’ve been pretty good in those situations.”
The results showed on the field as the bats created room for their pitchers to breathe. Burton found himself on third after a walk and a steal in the sixth inning. Again only one strike away from ending the inning, the Buckeyes made a crucial error as a wild pitch bounced off the ground and the catcher’s face, allowing Burton to waltz home.
Then first baseman Zach Dezenzo stepped to the plate.
For the third game in a row, Dezenzo smashed a 110 mile-per-hour dinger high over the left field wall. Ohio State notched two more runs and fought back to a 3-3 tie, and Allen was pulled for junior left-hander Jacob Denner, ending his longest outing of the season.
Velazquez really hated Ohio State having the lead. Again facing two outs, he snuck the ball past the second baseman to score one more. Junior right-fielder Clark Elliott hit what looked like a groundout straight to the Buckeyes’ first baseman, but he missed the flip by several feet and allowed the Wolverines to stay in the inning.
A grounder up the middle reached the second baseman right as Elliott was about to round third. The umpire called an out on runner interference, which Bakich argued heavily after the inning-ending play that negated a Velazquez score.
“It is my interpretation of the rule that if I’m stealing I have the right of way to the bag, which I was doing on that batted ball,” Elliott said. “They told me that on the batted ball you have to get out of the way as a runner, but I don’t think they realized what I was doing on that pitch. You know, it’s frustrating, but it’s just baseball.”
Then, pitching struggles arrived. After an insurance run in the eighth inning, Denner gave up a homer on the second pitch of the ninth. He came within one strike of ending the game, but left-fielder Trey Lipsey had other plans. He smashed another bomb just over the right-field wall to tie the game at five. Later, an RBI single gave Ohio State a 6-5 lead that held.
With an opportunity to sweep the Buckeyes, Michigan couldn’t hold them off a third time.