Freshman right-hander Jeff Criswell blew a pitch right past Michigan State’s Adam Proctor for the strikeout. It was a fitting way for the Michigan baseball team to wrap up its three-game sweep of its in-state rival.
The Wolverines outscored the Spartans 26-4 over the course of the series, including an 11-0 beat down Sunday afternoon. Backed by sophomore right-hander Karl Kauffmann’s six innings of five-hit, scoreless ball, Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 12-11 overall) moved to above .500 for the first time since its first series of the season.
Now owners of an eight-game win streak, the Wolverines’ confidence is trending upwards as conference play continues.
“This is a totally different team from a week and a half ago,” Kauffmann said. “To come out here and get a sweep in the first week of Big Ten play — moving forward that is going to be huge.”
Michigan began the game on a strong note, putting up two runs in the first inning. After junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann laced an RBI single up the middle, junior outfielder Miles Lewis stepped up to the plate.
With two outs in the inning, Engelmann was running on contact. Lewis lifted a fly ball to left field, and as the Michigan State left fielder charged in for the ball, the wind knocked it down quicker than he expected. He dove late, and the ball rolled by him. Engelmann scored, and Lewis advanced to third after the center fielder, backing up on the play, let the ball roll by him as well.
The Wolverines strung together series of hits throughout the game to manufacture runs.
While Michigan played well from top to bottom on offense, perhaps no one had a better game than freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren — who went 3-for-4 on the day, including his first career home run.
“You get days like today where you can see what he’s capable of doing,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “You just want him to be able to be as consistent with that as possible. … He’s a consistent worker, he’s got a great attitude, he’s a tough kid. He brings all the intangibles to the table.”
With the Wolverines up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, Blomgren dug in to the batter’s box to lead off the inning. After ripping a single over the shortstop into left field in his first at-bat, Blomgren went up looking to swing — and swing he did, as the ball flew over the brick wall in left field.
“When Jack Blomgren hit the home run, that was kinda like a stab-in-the-heart type of move for them, just capping (off) the weekend,” Kauffmann said.
Michigan would score again in the inning on junior third baseman Blake Nelson’s RBI double, and then put up a four-spot in the sixth inning to go up 10-0.
Kauffmann, all the while, was dealing; the Spartans couldn’t buy a sound at-bat.
“When he attacks the strike zone, he’s gonna be successful,” Bakich said. “He got into a little bit of trouble early in this game – even though they didn’t get any runs – with just pitch count, having some three-ball counts and whatever. But when he’s on the attack, he gets a lot of quick outs. … He’s put together a lot of nice, quality starts this season.”
The way Kauffmann’s day ended perfectly echoes Bakich’s assessment of his outing. With two outs in the sixth inning, Kauffmann faced a bases-loaded situation. Instead of buckling under the pressure, Kauffmann threw a couple of pitches right past the Michigan State hitter on his way to a strike out, his fifth and final on the day.
Once Kauffmann exited the ball game, the Wolverines’ bullpen did its job and closed out the game without allowing a run in three innings.
“When you get quality starts from your starting pitching, the bullpen wants to come in and keep that momentum going,” Bakich said. “They see the blueprint of what’s worked and so they have an idea of how to attack.”
Following the victory, Michigan looks to continue not only the baseball team’s recent success, but the successes many of the University’s athletic teams have seen.
“We all came into today so fired up about basketball and hockey that we just wanted to represent the block ‘M’ and contribute in anyway that we could,” Bakich said. “It’s just great to be a part of this athletic department and to wear the block ‘M.’ Our guys, they feel that.
“They want to contribute to all the positive mojo that the entire athletic department has right now. … If we can come out and sweep our rival and contribute as well, we certainly wanted to do that.”