As the Michigan State runner slid into third base, senior shortstop Riley Bertram’s errant throw sailed over the third baseman’s head. The triple turned into an inside the park home run, and the Spartans took a 4-0 lead before the first out of the game was recorded.
Michigan took the punch, got back up, and struck back even harder.
The Wolverines (26-24 overall, 10-11 Big Ten) beat Michigan State (23-28, 7-14), 11-8 behind a nine-run first inning. Quick bursts of hitting led the comeback effort to take the final midweek game of the year and continue the recent dominance of the series to 16 wins in the last 18 games for Michigan.
“It’s awesome,” graduate center fielder Joe Stewart. “Obviously, the rivalry games are big, you know, you come to a school like Michigan to play in those rivalry games just like you would go to Michigan State to come and beat Michigan. So those games, no matter what side you’re on, are always big. They always mean a little more.”
Four straight hits cut the Wolverines’ deficit to one run, which was enough for the opposing pitcher to be pulled. But even with the new Spartan pitcher, the hitters still found success.
Right-hander Dominic Pianto gave up six runs as Michigan’s bats took complete control of the game. A barrage of ground balls, bloopers over the shortstop and 13 quality at-bats in a row propelled the Wolverines to their wildest first inning of the season.
“There was no concern, no pressure, no panic,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We knew we would come back. I mean, that’s one thing that we have a lot of confidence in. We’ve played from a lot of deficits this year and come back from a lot of them.”
Stewart — a former Spartan — feasted the hardest. Stewart brought two men home with a double and scored two runs himself. .
Michigan State looked to steal back the momentum in the third with a solo home run, but Bertram atoned for his earlier fielding mistake with a heads-up play. After catching an easy pop-up, he immediately fired the ball to first base. The runner was caught sleeping and the double play ended the inning.
Despite a few tough situations, relievers were able to get out of mid-game jams.
By the fifth inning, Michigan State clawed its way back to just a two-run deficit at 9-7. After two straight two-out walks, freshman right-hander Avery Goldensoph came in with the task of shutting down the threatening Spartans. He caught the batter with a swing and a miss on a breaking ball to stop the bleeding.
“I loved what I saw out of Avery,” Bakich said. “He had a really rough outing at Maryland and for him to respond the way he did, and to to come out and get a huge strikeout with the bases loaded and then have another good inning after that, those are all the signs of a freshman turning into a sophomore.”
Senior right-hander Willie Weiss was thrust into another tough spot in the seventh with two men in scoring position and one out. He struck out two of the next three batters to maintain the lead.
Following their initial rally, the Michigan bats remained dormant for five straight innings but in the seventh, the hitters finally woke up. All three batters at the top of the order reached base before the first out, including two infield hits. An RBI single laced through the left field gap by junior left fielder Tito Flores widened the lead to 11-8, which held.
In the final game against the Spartans, Michigan was able to finish the last midweek game of the year on a high note and clinch the season sweep against its rival.