Headed into its first Big Ten series of the season against Maryland, the No. 18 Michigan baseball team knew it had a daunting task ahead of it – the Terrapins (2-1 Big Ten, 15-8 overall) were selected to win the Big Ten in the preseason coaches poll.
Maryland’s roster has a plethora of talent led by its pitching staff – the Terrapins rank 25th in the NCAA with a 3.02 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 30th in the nation with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich – who coached the Terrapins from 2009 to 2012 – was prepared for the tall task Maryland presented on the field, as well as the hostile environment in which the Wolverines would be playing:
“It’s College Park,” Bakich said on WTKA. “Terp fans are going to be out, and it’s going to be a good test.”
In the first game of the series, Michigan (1-2, 17-6) turned to its ace, junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie. While Jaskie was dominant in some aspects – he struck out 10 batters out of his 19 total outs – the Terrapin batters ultimately got the best of the lefty, recording five runs in his 6.1 innings pitched.
After surrendering a first-inning solo home run, Jaskie’s struggles continued in the second. Following a sacrifice fly that increased the lead to 2-0, Maryland blew the game open with a three-run homer by catcher Justin Morris.
The Wolverines came on strong in the top of the third, scoring two runs off a double down the left-field line from senior shortstop Michael Brdar. However, Michigan was unable to manufacture any more runs, falling 7-2.
Looking for revenge in game two, the Wolverines got on the scoreboard early, scoring a run off an RBI triple by junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer in the top of the first. Nevertheless, Maryland matched Michigan’s run with one of its own in the bottom half of the inning.
The Terrapins’ comeback efforts became the theme of the game.
The Wolverines added a run in both the second and fourth innings off of two sac hits by sophomore second basemen Ako Thomas. However, Maryland answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth, making it 3-3. When Michigan scored a run in the top of the fifth, the Terrapins responded with a run in the bottom of the sixth.
Tied at four apiece in the bottom of the eighth, Maryland left fielder Madison Nickens hit a sac fly that produced the eventual game-winning score, 5-4.
Despite the loss, the Wolverines’ pitchers were again impressive with 12 strikeouts.
In the final game of the series, Michigan’s pitching was again able to blow the ball past the Terrapins – striking out eight batters. Furthermore, the offense was able to provide run support, something that had been limited in the previous two games.
Tied at one in the top of the fourth, the Wolverines took their first commanding lead of the series. With the bases loaded, senior centerfielder Johnny Slater scored on a passed ball. Michigan produced another run off an RBI single up the middle from sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis and recorded a third run coming off of a wild pitch, increasing the lead to 4-1.
The Wolverines never surrendered that lead, winning 6-2.
Despite the two losses, Michigan struck out an impressive 30 batters throughout the series – an average of 10 per game. For comparison, South Florida – the team that ranks first in the nation in strikes per game – averages 11.3 strikeouts per game.
On offense, Lugbauer continued his hot streak. The slugger went 6-for-11 in the series, including his first three-hit game of the year.
“We have a lot of guys that invest a lot of time into their swing,” Bakich said. “I don’t know anyone that invests more time, works harder at their game than Drew Lugbauer.”
While it was disappointing to lose the series, Bakich quickly pointed out that what really matters is how the team improves from it throughout the rest of the season.
“The only rankings that mean anything are the final ones,” Bakich said. “Even the in-season rankings don’t mean jack squat. The only ranking that matters is how you finish at the end.”