Jeff Criswell’s attempt at a spotless night was over in the first inning. With one out, Toledo’s Brad Boss managed to squeeze a single through the right side of the infield. Then, as the Rockets’ Chris Meyers swung six inches below junior right-hander Criswell’s high fastball, Boss beat catcher Joe Donovan’s throw to second base by mere milliseconds.
The defense’s busy first inning would set the tone for the rest of Wednesday evening as a carousel of Michigan pitchers took the mound against Toledo.
For Criswell, his pitches ranged from unhittable to Little League — in the second inning, he allowed a single and a walk to put two runners on with no outs. After a quick strikeout and a groundout, he walked the Rockets’ nine-hole hitter Thomas Eitniear to load the bases, only to come back and entice Boss to swing past a bullet of a fastball.
Criswell — a weekend starter who missed a game last Sunday against Michigan State after it was suspended — was pulled after two innings. His replacement was freshman left-hander Walker Cleveland, who promptly let up a single.
An error by senior second baseman Ako Thomas on a fielder’s choice would extend the inning, allowing a sacrifice bunt and a ground out to push Toledo’s John Servello from second base to home, scoring an unearned run — the Rockets’ first run of the game.
The next inning was smooth sailing for Cleveland with one strikeout and two first-pitch groundouts, closing his two-inning term as president of the mound. Now, it was freshman right-hander Isaiah Paige’s opportunity to give the defense some work.
“We had some momentum plays on defense, some ball security plays,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We’ve been talking about ball security, playing fast, accurate catch and just taking care of the baseball.”
The first batter, Servello, punched a clear, clean single to left-center field. Facing the next batter, Paige gave sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren an opportunity to make a web gem-esque play, but despite Blomgren’s best efforts, Meyers beat the throw. Fortunately for Paige, his next gift to the defense was accepted wholeheartedly — a clean 5-4-3 double play ended the threatening inning.
“Our pitchers do a really good job of attacking the strike zone and keeping our defense engaged as defenders and make those plays,” Bakich said. “It’s always nice when we can make the web gem plays or turn a double play, it turns the momentum for ourselves offensively the next inning.”
Continuing to follow the rule of two, Paige returned for the sixth inning. Allowing a leadoff single just past a diving senior third baseman Blake Nelson and following it up with a passed ball to advance Toledo’s Darryn Davis, putting him in perfect position to score off the next single.
Only when junior right-hander Jack Weisenburger came into the game did the defense have the opportunity to breathe in a one-two-three top of the seventh.
It was clear today that Michigan’s defense was hard to break, no matter how much it bent. There were 15 ground-outs and just two fly-outs, holding the Rockets to two runs. While none of the pitchers on Wednesday threw gems, the defense stepped up and had a gem of its own.