The offense was rolling.
Through four innings, the Michigan baseball team had scored five runs and collected seven hits. It held a three-run lead and showed no signs of slowing down.
But the Wolverines did slow down — as if they had driven straight into a pit of quicksand. After the fourth, Michigan did not manage to string together more than one hit an inning for the rest of the game. When Indiana’s offense began picking apart the bullpen late in the game, the Wolverines’ bats could only watch their own outs pile up.
“The game yesterday and the game today, the scripts were flipped,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We didn’t have an answer for their bullpen when our bullpen gave it up.”
On Friday the Wolverines struck a late comeback against the Hoosiers’ bullpen to grab a win. But Saturday, that bullpen got their chance to repay the favor.
After a rough start from right-hander Bradley Brehmer, the Indiana bullpen stepped up its game. Left-hander Ty Bothwell and right-hander Reese Sharp combined to toss four scoreless innings with apparent ease. Michigan struck out a whopping 15 times over the course of the game, 10 of which came in the fifth inning or later.
“15 strikeouts is too many strikeouts,” Bakich said. “We’ve got to be more competitive and put the bat on the ball with two strikes. Find a way to put more pressure on (the opposing pitcher).”
That pressure never materialized late in the game. The Wolverines got to third in both the fifth and sixth innings thanks to graduate center fielder Joe Stewart and junior left fielder Joey Velazquez both belting doubles then swiping third on loose ball plays. But the Michigan offense failed to turn the Hoosiers’ mistakes into runs, and both times it let them off the hook before any damage could be done.
As the Wolverines’ offense petered out, the visiting Hoosiers found rhythm against the Michigan bullpen. Unlike the Wolverines, Indiana was able to string together multiple hits late, pulling ahead with three runs in the seventh inning and giving itself plenty of insurance with a second trio of runs in the ninth.
The Wolverines bit on pitch after pitch against the opposing bullpen, and even when they got baserunners on, outs piled up to send them back to the dugout empty-handed.
With the Hoosiers’ relievers at the top of their game, fanning batter after batter, Michigan couldn’t put up a fight.
“We just didn’t hit well from the fifth to the ninth inning.” Bakich said.
During that period, the Wolverines couldn’t figure out what was coming next, even after hitting the ball well early on. They lost their ability to find the ball and simply looked overmatched.
“(The Indiana bullpen) did a good job of mixing all their stuff.” Bakich said. “They would get ahead with fast balls and expand down in the zone late with breaking balls. … We weren’t seeing it very well.”
Michigan’s bats have often made up for the bullpen’s struggles, like in its 16-13 win over Ohio State. However on Saturday they failed to do so.
As the Wolverines’ offense went off the rails, the Hoosiers easily passed them for a comeback victory. The game was well within Michigan’s reach, but the offense failed to leap up and grab it.