LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Junior right-hander Cameron Weston stood on the mound one out away from capping off one of the Michigan baseball team’s best pitching performances of the season. His final pitch forced a ground ball right to the second baseman, holding Louisville’s talented offense to just three runs — and sending his team to the regional finals.
The Wolverines (34-26) beat the Cardinals (39-19-1), 7-3, on the back of a stellar combined pitching performance.
“We pitched very well,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We had a script going into it … threw a lot of strikes and our defense stayed into it.”
And that plan accounted for plenty of bumps. To start, senior left-hander Walker Cleveland played shaky. He gave up a single to his second batter and plunked his third, allowing Louisville two early baserunners. However, Cleveland soon ended the inning with no damage sustained.
But the next inning, similar events occurred with batters one through three, and Michigan coach Erik Bakich decided to go to the bullpen early. Junior right-hander Noah Rennard took over and dug himself out of Cleveland’s hole while allowing only one run to score.
As the Wolverines’ offense stayed quiet — the first eight batters recorded outs — that pitching success was needed. It kept the game from getting out of hand long enough for the bats to arrive.
Coming in and supporting the player before you was a major theme of the win. Whenever trouble crept up, the next Michigan pitcher came in and fought it off.
“Everybody trusts everybody,” Weston said. “Everybody trusted if they don’t get the job done, the next guy will pick them up.”
And soon, the Wolverines’ offense showed up for its pitchers. Junior first baseman Jake Marti ambushed a 1-0 pitch to sneak a single into centerfield, then junior right fielder Clark Elliott followed that up with a home run to claim Michigan’s first lead.
With the lead established, graduate center fielder Joe Stewart mashed his own long ball to straight away center field for a 3-1 lead.
But the fireworks wouldn’t cease. In the fourth inning, the Cardinals got a run back on an RBI single, but Michigan’s pitching kept the damage to a minimum and the offense came back out. By inning’s end the Wolverines had extended their lead to 5-2.
“Offensively, it looked like it was going to be very tough there with those first eight hitters,” Bakich said. “… Our guys (then got) a ton of energy and confidence and we were able to string the quality at bats together after that.”
The Wolverines did not surrender the lead again, the offense continued to pile on and the pitching gave one of its best performances of the postseason.
Even though Louisville kept putting up a fight, the Michigan pitchers were never overwhelmed. In the sixth inning, the Cardinals got men on the corners, but junior left-hander Jacob Denner shut it down in his second scoreless inning.
And though that shutdown pitching faltered in the seventh inning when the Cardinals scored a final time on a passed ball, it would make a quick return. Junior right-hander Chase Allen tagged in and closed the door on any potential rally.
Then like he had all game, Bakich went with the next arm in line — Weston — to close it out. Weston navigated the treacherous waters stirred up by the Louisville offense — sending the game to the ninth inning with a 7-3 Wolverines lead.
“I think this is just the most fun we’ve had all season,” Weston said. “The beginning (of the season) we were a little bit too tight … Now everybody’s having a lot of fun.”
And in the ninth inning, the fun kept coming for Michigan. Weston closed out the game in swift fashion, capping off a combined-effort gem and putting the Wolverines one win away from heading to a Super Regional.