The Michigan baseball team has found the zone.
In an up and down year, three straight games of consistent pitching have been a difficult feat. The pitchers showed flashes of potential all year. But against Michigan State, they finally put it all together.
The Wolverines (20-15 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) dominated on Saturday and Sunday, winning 8-2 and 6-3 respectively, to complete a three-game weekend sweep of the Spartans (13-19, 2-7). The pitching staff showed its top form in what could be a turning point for the remainder of the season.
“I think it’s just the thing our staff needed,” sophomore right-hander Chase Allen said. “ … We got a bunch of great dudes with great work and work ethic and a great pitching coach leading us … so I just think it was a matter of time and now we’re finally seeing it.”
But for the pitchers to feast, first the offense had to establish itself. Going into Saturday, the Michigan bats remained hot from their 18-run slugfest on Friday.
With two outs and two men on in the first inning, junior designated hitter Tito Flores sparked the hot start with a two-RBI double over the second baseman’s head. Minutes later, senior first baseman Jack Van Remortel mashed a two-run double of his own to establish a 5-0 lead before Michigan State even reached the plate.
After the hot start, junior right-hander Cam Weston didn’t give the Spartans any breathing room. Containing their hitters in a 1-2-3 inning, Weston made quick work in one of the Wolverines’ most complete innings of the year.
Weston’s dominance continued through seven innings, as he tied his season-high with nine strikeouts and allowed just two runs. In relief, junior left-hander Jacob Denner cruised through the final batters, sealing the 8-2 victory.
On Sunday, Allen notched the third dominant start of the weekend, throwing five scoreless innings and allowing just two hits.
As a unit, Michigan’s starters had one of their best weekends of the season. Sophomore left-hander Connor O’Halloran, Weston and Allen combined for 21 strikeouts and conceded just four runs in 18 innings.
“We’ve taken the punches, we’ve been knocked down and we’ve just played in so many different kinds of games,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “ … What we’re seeing now is those repetitions that we’ve had have bettered our guys. Our guys are better for what we’ve gone through. Hopefully we can continue to put these good outings together.”
They also thrived in tough situations. With a stalemate through the first three innings on Sunday, the Wolverines finally broke the tie with a three-run bomb from Flores to take the momentum in the fourth. But before the breakthrough, Allen had to keep the game tied. He did just that.
“This feeling is second to none,” Allen said. “Just so happy to come in here, somebody else’s place, and sweep them. The goal is to sweep every weekend. But when you play rivals, there’s an extra chip on your shoulder to try and get that sweep especially at their place.”
In a weekend of production on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines may have turned a corner. The most consistent story of the season has been the lack of consistency, but revitalized pitching could turn the page.