In each of the Michigan baseball team’s previous three seasons under coach Erik Bakich, the opening weekend was always one to forget.
The 2016 edition will be just the opposite. The 15th-ranked Wolverines won all four games in the series against Canisius, 9-0 Friday, 6-2 and 3-0 Saturday and 9-3 Sunday. It’s the first time Michigan has started 4-0 since 2009.
“The momentum that was created (this weekend) was a byproduct of our training, and the consistency of our efforts on a daily basis,” Bakich said.
The Wolverines put away Friday’s contest quickly, putting up four runs in the first inning.
It all started when sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens hit a leadoff single to right field. Senior Matt Ramsay followed up with a single of his own to put runners on first and second base.
Two batters later, senior outfielder Cody Bruder singled with the bases loaded and one out to drive in two runs. Then fellow junior outfielder Johnny Slater hit his own RBI double to extend Michigan’s lead to three. Junior designated hitter Harrison Wenson added a sacrifice fly to center to put the Wolverines ahead, 4-0.
Michigan later accumulated a four-run sixth inning and a one-run eighth frame to round out Friday. Every batter for the Wolverines either notched an RBI or scored a run.
“To see (the offense) have success, get on base, run hard on the bases and create scoring opportunities was really exciting.” Bakich said. “Our team was very engaged and invested in one another. I liked the positivity, I liked the energy and I liked the execution.”
But it was junior left-handed pitcher Brett Adcock who was the star of Friday’s show. He pitched 5.1 scoreless innings, allowed three hits and struck out seven. Sophomore right-hander Jayce Vancena came on for 1.2 innings of scoreless relief and freshman right-hander Troy Miller pitched the final two innings.
“We got quality starts from all four guys who started (this weekend),” Bakich said. “We got quality relief pitching, too. I was very happy to see the way our pitching staff competed.”
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader started out differently than Friday’s contest as Canisius scored an unearned run in the top of the first, but Michigan quickly dashed the Golden Griffins’ hopes.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, junior outfielder Carmen Benedetti hit a single to right field. Sophomore infielder Drew Lugbauer followed up with another single to put two runners on base.
“(Lugbauer) still made some of the loudest contact of anyone with deep drives to the warning track,” Bakich said. “Even though his statistics from this weekend are solid, they don’t show how well he really hit this weekend.”
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Ryan Nutof earned the win in Saturday’s first game. He pitched four innings, kept the Golden Griffins hitless and only surrendered one unearned run while striking out two. Sophomore right-hander Michael Hendrickson came on for three innings of relief, permitting only one run on three hits and earning a save in the process.
While Michigan scored just three runs in the second game of the doubleheader, four Wolverine pitchers ensured that the offense’s support was sufficient.
Senior left-hander Evan Hill started things off by pitching four scoreless frames, striking out one and allowing six hits. After that, freshman southpaw William Tribucher, junior right-hander Mac Lozer, and sophomore righty Bryan Pall combined for five shut-out innings of relief.
“When the pitching is as dominant as it was this weekend, it’s a huge pump-up for our offense.” Bruder said. “I have to give credit to (the pitchers).”
But Michigan’s offense came roaring back alive in the first two innings of Sunday’s game.
In the first frame, Bivens singled up the middle to lead off the inning and Ramsay immediately followed up with another single. A sacrifice fly by junior outfielder Carmen Benedetti put runners on first and third with one out.
Two unforced mistakes by Canisius turned into two runs for the Wolverines. A balk allowed Bivens to score and a throwing error two batters later allowed Ramsay to score after stealing third base.
Slater opened up the second inning by singling to right field. Wenson then launched a home run to left field on the next at-bat to put Michigan up, 4-0. The Wolverines scored one more time in the inning to extend the lead to five.
An RBI single by Bruder and a sacrifice fly from Wenson in the fifth created even more separation for the Wolverines. Bruder again singled in the eighth to drive in a run and give Michigan a 9-3 advantage. Bruder finished Sunday with three hits in five at-bats, one run scored and two RBI.
“I got to give credit to the people in front of me for setting the table,” Bruder said. “Coach Bakich always had a good game plan for us going in.”
Perhaps the lone blemish from the weekend was the fact that the Wolverines’ defense committed four errors Sunday, which turned into three runs for the Golden Griffins. Yet Bakich believed the performance was an anomaly in an otherwise strong series for the defense. Michigan committed two errors in the other three contests.
“For the first three games, the defense was elite,” Bakich said. “We had some issues (Sunday). I think our defense is outstanding, it just wasn’t very good today.”
While there are still plenty of challenges ahead during conference play, the sweep of Canisius was certainly a momentum-booster for the Wolverines.
Editor’s note: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this story misstated a quote from Bakich as saying, “I don’t think our defense is outstanding, but it’s very good.” The updated story reflects his actual quote.