As the first of two games on Sunday wound down, it wasn’t entirely clear which team would come out on top. It was tied, 2-2, in the seventh inning, and neither Michigan nor Northwestern had mustered any offense.
Then, junior center fielder Christian Bullock sprung to action.
For the second time that game, he worked his way to third base after stealing second and advancing on the ensuing throwing error. Wildcat second baseman Alex Erro couldn’t handle sophomore Jack Blomgren’s ground ball, and Bullock scored the eventual winning run.
“It feels great to score winning runs for this team,” Bullock said. “And to score the winning run feels amazing.”
The 3-2 win over Big Ten foe Northwestern (16-19 overall, 5-6 Big Ten) was the first of the day, as the Wolverines (27-11 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) established their dominance by taking the second game of the double header, 10-1 to complete a three-game sweep.
In both games, Michigan got off to a hot start.
In the first game, the offense manufactured two runs in the first two innings to go up 2-0. The first came from sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu after he had extended his hit streak to nine games with a leadoff single and was advanced to third. An error by Wildcat third baseman Charlie Maxwell allowed the run to score. Bullock scored in a nearly identical way to the seventh, forcing his way to third base and then coming home on a single.
“The two bases that (Bullock) stole in the first game, the throw got away from the fielders and he was able to advance to third on an error and scored both times,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “So just by being aggressive we had huge opportunities, and we certainly needed it.”
In the later game, runs didn’t need to be manufactured, two home runs in the second inning — senior outfielder Blake Nelson’s first career home run and Bullock’s first of the season, a three-run shot to right field — gave the Wolverines a 4-0 lead and they never looked back.
It ended up being a career day for Bullock, who found himself behind strong offensive and defensive starters. But with junior outfielder Jordan Brewer and sophomore outfielder Jesse Franklin struggling with injuries, Bullock proved he can play, totaling three runs and four RBI.
“Coach is always telling me to stay ready,” Bullock said, “and is always working on me in the morning and at night in the evening practice just staying ready for the next opportunity.
“ … I know (my speed) is a game changer and coach always tells me to use it as much as possible so I can score runs.”
Added Bakich: “Everybody likes playing with a lead. It allows everybody to breathe a little bit and play a little bit looser. Every team in college baseball plays better with the lead than playing with a deficit. You can be aggressive, you can take chances, you don’t have to be quite as conservative.”
Northwestern didn’t give up when it got down, though, battling back in the first game. It tied the game 2-2 with a pair of two-out runs in the third inning after sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren missed a double play throw to first base.
It had less success in the second game. The Wildcats only managed to score one run, unable to cut into the early lead as the Michigan defense routinely made plays like the one Blomgren missed.
Three double plays in three different ways quickly snuffed out any hope of offense that Northwestern could muster. In the sixth inning, senior infielder Jimmy Kerr snatched up a ground ball hit by the first batter sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith faced, and quickly threw the ball to second base before hustling back to first to get the final out.
And even when the Wildcats kept the game close late, the Wolverines’ bullpen shut them out, holding the Northwestern to no runs over the two games and seven strikeouts.
“Our relief pitching was phenomenal in the first game with (senior left-hander Ben) Keizer and (Willie) Weiss coming in and putting up zeros,” Bakich said. “And today’s game with (Angelo) Smith and (Jack) Weisenburger. It’s exactly what we needed. We needed the bullpen to step up and hold the other team down.”
Added Keizer: “It was awesome seeing all the guys out of the bullpen come in with an edge and to hold them to zeros is big. We talk about it all the time, starters put in their work and give us quality starts, it’s our job is to come in and preserve the lead.”
Michigan was confident Sunday, never losing its poise and never letting the pressure get to it, whether it was having the bases loaded or facing a late-inning game, where one mistake could cost the Wolverines.