The Michigan baseball team’s bats were the hottest in the Big Ten Tournament through their first two games. Averaging a conference-best 11 runs per game, it looked like no one could stop them.
Then Iowa happened.
With an ERA in the top 10 nationally, the Hawkeye’s pitching staff was the Wolverines kryptonite in their weekend series earlier in the season, holding them to just 2.3 runs a game. Saturday was no different. Michigan was once again smothered to three runs, its lowest total in three weeks.
Even so, Iowa’s arms, especially left-hander Cam Bauman, rose above those lofty expectations. Before Saturday’s game, he had maxed out at three innings in a game this season. He started the game with a lack of control, hitting three batters in the first inning. However, Bauman locked in and put up zeroes for five innings before giving up two runs in the sixth.
After the first four innings, the game was stuck at a scoreless stalemate. Michigan remained unconcerned, trusting its hitters.
“You’ve just got to have better quality at bats, (there were) a lot of quick outs on the ground,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich told Big Ten Network during the game. “But our offense is good. We’ll be alright.”
The Wolverines never made the turnaround.
Their dominant duo of junior right fielder Clark Elliott and graduate center fielder Joe Stewart only mustered up one hit all game through eight at bats. In the previous two games of the tournament, the duo went 8-for-15.
The Hawkeyes’ pitching staff kept it tricky all game and never let Michigan gain a lead.
“They’re able to mix speeds, they can pitch backward when they want to, but tonight they really did a good job of locating the fastball in and down,” Bakich said. “They got a lot of ground ball contact pull side early in the count. But I would chalk it up to having good pitchers, good coaches and a well executed game plan.”
The main issue for the Wolverines was that they could never string together a rally. They were able to get a respectable 10 hits, but all of them were too spread out to do any serious damage on the scoreboard. With runners in scoring position, they struggled to convert.
“We got the leadoff hitter on six out of nine times but weren’t able to cash in and score,” Bakich said. “… I think we were 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position, and that’s just not going to get it done.”
There were several flashes of hope early in some innings, but Michigan didn’t convert on enough of its chances. Now, its path to a Big Ten Championship — and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, gets a whole lot trickier.