Oliver Jaskie had just surrendered his first two earned runs of the game on a pop-up that dropped just inside the left field foul line. But with two down in the sixth inning and Penn State designated hitter Alex Malinsky in the batter’s box, Jaskie calmly stared towards home plate, and with his 107th pitch of the day, he did what he had done all game.
Jaskie delivered the pitch. Malinsky swung and missed. Inning over.
The junior left-hander delivered a performance worthy of his reputation as one of the Big Ten’s best, striking out a career-high 12 batters in six innings, as the No. 22 Michigan baseball team (2-2 Big Ten, 20-6 overall) won its home conference opener against Penn State (0-1, 10-14), 10-6.
Jaskie’s talent and poise were apparent all game. The Nittany Lions put their leadoff batter on base in all but one inning while he was on the mound. Yet the Wolverines’ ace hardly appeared fazed.
“There are pitchers that when guys get in scoring position they have another level,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “They buckle down and make really good pitches, and he certainly has that as well.
“He mixed his pitches, and the changeup was very good in addition to the breaking ball and the fastball on both sides. Credit to (Penn State) for putting balls in play, but all in all, Oliver was very good tonight.”
For Michigan’s offense, it was just another day at the office. Every Wolverine who made a plate appearance reached base at some point, while all but one got a hit. The Wolverines scored in five innings, registered 11 hits, six walks and five stolen bases, and they now have stolen more bases in just 26 games than they did all of last season.
“What I like about the offense is the multiple weapons,” Bakich said. “You’ve got a couple guys that can hit the ball out of the park, a bunch of guys that can steal bases, a lot of guys that are just good clutch hitters and two-strike hitters.”
Michigan was in tune from the start, picking up a run in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by senior shortstop Michael Brdar, before scoring again the inning later when redshirt sophomore outfielder Miles Lewis came home on a passed ball.
After a scoreless third, Michigan struck quickly in the fourth inning. Junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer drew a leadoff walk, Lewis slammed a double off the wall in left field and junior first baseman Jake Bivens was hit by a pitch. After a strikeout, sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann hit a high, bouncing ball into centerfield to score both Lugbauer and Lewis, and Bivens would later cross the plate on senior catcher Harrison Wenson’s sacrifice fly.
At this point, it appeared the rout was on. But Penn State took advantage of a Bivens throwing error to lead off the fifth inning, got two runs back on Jordan Bowersox’s home run to left field, and after a Michigan run in the bottom half of the fifth, the Nittany Lions scored twice in the top of the sixth on Nick Riotto’s bloop single.
It appeared Penn State had weathered the early storm and turned the game into fight to the finish. But the Wolverines were resilient, and pulled away with a four-run seventh inning in which they scored every run with two outs.
After sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas lined into a double play, a single, two walks and a wild pitch brought senior center fielder Johnny Slater across the plate. Lewis then hit a routine grounder that might have ended the inning, but Penn State shortstop Logan Goodnight couldn’t control it in his glove, his error allowing another run to score. Subsequent RBI singles by Bivens and sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier put the game essentially out of reach.
“We take pride in our two-out RBIs, that’s what wins ballgames,” Brdar said. “That’s something where our focus level and our intent level goes up.”
On the mound, junior Mac Lozer, freshman Karl Kauffman, junior Grant Reuss and senior Jackson Lamb did enough to hold down the fort after Jaskie’s day was over. While the Nittany Lions scored two runs in the ninth inning, it was simply too little, too late.
Michigan put in a complete performance, with dominant starting pitching and an offense that remained dangerous all game long. Despite the strong start and finish, the Wolverines’ ability to remain steady and make adjustments was tested in the middle innings, but Bakich was pleased with his team’s response.
“There’s too many good teams that are making adjustments while you’re making adjustments,” Bakich said. “As long as our ability to stay tough, stay gritty, execute and do it with the right intent stays consistent, we’ll just let the results take care of themselves.”
While toughness has been a central point of emphasis all season, Brdar also credits a relaxed mentality under pressure that allowed Michigan to finish the game strong.
“We were a loose group today,” Brdar said. “We had fun out there and we do our best when we have fun. When you see us smiling out there, that’s when we’re most successful.”