Tension filled the air.
A 3-3 game in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs set up Ako Thomas who had teammates on second and third.
Thomas grinded the at-bat until the count was 3-and-2. The payoff pitch came and Thomas drove it into left-center field where Ben Mezzenga attempted to make a highlight play but missed the diving catch, allowing both runners to score and breaking the deadlock in the Wolverines’ favor to make it 5-3.
That ended up being the final score, as the Michigan baseball team (21-8 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) topped Minnesota (13-15, 6-2) on on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m just fortunate enough to get up in that situation to start off,” Thomas said. “And just trust my preparation, trust the training and the results showed.”
Bakich added: “So it was just a struggle there in the middle, so to get that huge hit from Ako in the seventh was the biggest hit of the game and we certainly needed it. From a guy who’s been a spark plug for three straight years that was (what) certainly sparked this win”
Minnesota landed the first blow in the second inning. Easton Bertrand was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a fielder’s choice. Jack Wassel stepped up and delivered a clutch single with two outs, Bertrand had a great jump on the ball and scored from second base while Wassel advanced to second. The Golden Gophers weren’t finished, as an infield single moved Wassel to third, increasing the pressure on junior right-hander Karl Kauffman. He wasn’t fazed. The next batter, Riley Smith worked the count to 3-and-2 before Kauffman struck him out looking as Minnesota stranded runners on the corners.
“Their at-bats are competitive,” Bakich said. “And they have some good hitters in their lineup so any mistakes we made on the mound they made us pay for it yesterday and today. So, for Karl to pitch out of those big jams with runners in scoring positions and less than two outs (to) put a zero up that was huge. It ran his pitch count up a little bit more than normal, but for him to escape some of those jams there in the middle innings that was a huge storyline in the game.”
Michigan responded in the bottom of the second. Sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren was hit by a pitch and Ako Thomas came up with a big single to left field to put Blomgren on second with one out. Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu was walked, loading the bases, Then, Franklin ripped a single into right field scoring Blomgren and Thomas but the bleeding was stopped by an amazing throw from right-field by Bertrand to nab Nwogu, who trying to reach third as the inning ended 2-1 in favor of the Wolverines.
Jordan Kozicky got the fourth started for the Golden Gophers with a one-out infield single. Kozicky advanced to second after a wild pitch by Kauffman. Wassel continued his hot hitting with an RBI single to center as Kozicky beat the throw home to tie the game at two.
Brewer started the fifth for Michigan with a rainbow shot down the right-field line that seemed to hang in the air forever before ending up in the stands for his ninth home run of the season. An opposite field home run is a rarity for Brewer.
“It was nice it felt good,” Brewer said. “After practice, you know guys were telling me alright this is how you do it and so I took advice from the stronger guys on the right side. Like Nwogu for example, he can do it so he’s been explaining how he does it. (I’m) just trying to follow him up and I did finally.”
After replacing Kauffman, who let up three runs in six innings with five strikeouts, freshman right-hander Willie Weiss showed his youth on the very first batter he faced in Wilson. After fouling three consecutive pitches Wilson went yard on Weiss to left center to tie the game at three. Impressively, Weiss was able to settle down and he struck out the next batter he faced and retired the rest to keep the game tied.
“And for Willie to give up a leadoff home run his first hitter and then to retire everyone until the lineup turned over again those were some big zeros to put up as well,” Bakich said. “So he did a good job you could tell he was maybe running out of gas there at the end getting behind some hitters, getting behind them with 2-0 counts, 2-1 counts. But, he battled back. The inning he struck out the side he got behind all three hitters.”
A scoreless eighth inning for both teams set up Weiss with a chance to end the game. Weiss had a shaky start to the inning allowing a walk and a single. After a mound visit, Weiss induced a ground ball which turned into a double play to cap off a resilient performance.
“He shows tremendous poise unlike a typical freshman when he’s out there,” Bakich said. “He stays in control (he) doesn’t seem to get rattled that’s a very important trait for a pitcher to have that type of demeanor.”