With two outs in the seventh inning Sunday afternoon at a packed Ray Fisher Stadium, Karl Kauffmann delivered a slider that started in the right-handed batters box before breaking under the flailing bat of Conlin Hughes.
Fittingly, it ended up being the sophomore right-hander’s final pitch of the game and the last of his 11 strikeouts. Two innings later, Michigan (24-11 overall, 11-0 Big Ten) had secured its 20th straight win, 14-2.
Kauffmann used a fastball-slider combo to keep Penn State (8-25, 1-14) batters off balance all game, giving up just one run in seven innings. After a one-out error in the second, he retired 16 straight batters before giving up a double to left-center field with two outs in the seventh.
“I thought Karl Kauffmann had one of his best days,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He was attacking the strike zone with fastball and slider, using his change when needed but he’s just got great run and sink on his fastball and when he locates that and locates his slider, he’s very tough to hit.”
Kauffmann added: “I was able to command my 2-seam to the glove side today which allowed me to backdoor righties … both pitches worked off each other really well today.”
While Kauffmann was dominating on the mound, his teammates put on a show at the plate, plating 14 runs before the Nittany Lions were able to get one across in the seventh. The outing capped off a dominant weekend in which the Wolverines scored 41 runs in three games.
10 different Michigan batters got hits, including redshirt sophomore infielder Joe Pace and sophomore outfielder Dom Clementi off the bench. It was Pace’s first hit of the season, while it completed a 4-for-8 weekend for Clementi, Bakich’s preferred starting DH, in his return from a foot injury.
“He had a season last year plagued with a bunch of injuries,” Bakich said. “And he’s had a couple already this year so never throws an at-bat away because he wants to be in there all the time and it’s great to see him take advantage of every at-bat he gets.”
After the game, Bakich expressed his frustration with a Big Ten rule that limits teams to a 27-man roster for conference games, preventing him from getting more players at-bats.
“Even the guys that aren’t on the 27 man roster [don’t get to play],” Bakich said, “which I think is a stupid rule, it would have been great to get some of those guys at-bats.
“I don’t wanna tell eight guys that they can’t play on a weekend. That’s a rule that needs to change in my opinion. It’s antiquated, it’s out of date, the reasoning for (it) from a budgetary standpoint doesn’t seem like it fits now.”
The batters on the roster, though, put on a show, as freshman left fielder Jordan Nwogu blasted a home run before his classmate, first baseman Jesse Franklin, followed suit with a two-run shot off the scoreboard in the fourth for his sixth in the last nine games.
While the Wolverines blasted Penn State by a combined 41-12 score over the weekend, they will face a formidable challenge in their attempt to continue the streak next weekend in Iowa City.
The series against Iowa (23-13, 7-6) also marks the beginning of a stretch where Michigan will play nine of ten games on the road.
“It’s just a challenge because it’s away from the friendly confines of our home field,” Bakich said. “This is the field we train on, this is the field we have all our reps on. But at the same time we train (for being) uncomfortable on the road and (being) in other environments. … And when we head to Iowa, finals will be over and they’ll just be baseball players.
“Iowa presents a good challenge for us but I’m excited for our guys and our preparation this week. We’ll be ready.”