The Michigan offense was dead all game.
Heading into the ninth inning, the Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 11-11 overall) were desperately searching for an answer to the dominant Michigan State starting pitcher. Michigan had been held scoreless through eight innings and amassed only three hits. There’s only one word to describe what happened next — grit.
Sophomore Christian Bullock stepped up to the plate and delivered a line drive to right center field to give Michigan a baserunner. Bullock’s hit marked only the third time all game the Wolverines would put their leadoff hitter on base. The other two came in the previous two innings.
Next, junior Jonathan Engelmann was walked to put Bullock in scoring position. Then, junior Blake Nelson executed what he thought would be a sacrifice bunt to bring Bullock home.
Nelson bunted the ball. The catcher picked it up and threw it to first, but the ball whizzed past the first baseman and Nelson was sent to second on an error.
Then, with runners on second and third, redshirt junior Miles Lewis stepped up and carried out a flawless double squeeze. Engelmann reached home easily as Nelson scrambled to reach the plate. The throw back to home from first base was not in time and Michigan gained a commanding 3-1 lead in the top of the ninth.
“We might have a little bit of a flair for the dramatic,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich, “but I really like the response and the toughness and the character and all the intangible things that didn’t seem to be a strength in the beginning of the year, but very much are our biggest strengths now.”
Aside from the late game dramatics, things began very quietly for both squads. The starting pitching was effective throughout the day, shutting down any offensive life and stranding many runners on base.
For the Wolverines, it was freshman left-hander Ben Dragani who stepped up and stifled the Spartan offense, pitching a strong six innings. Dragani allowed only five hits and one run, cementing his status as a weekend starter.
For the Spartans (0-2, 6-15), it was right-hander Ethan Landon. Landon was surgical in his eight inning performance, allowing only four hits in the contest. After almost tossing a complete game, Landon was ultimately pulled after relenting a walk and a hit to start the ninth.
“Ethan Landon was doing a very good job of attacking with his fastball on both sides of the plate, mixing his off-speeds, both his breaking ball and change-up and just pitched very well,” Bakich said. “It didn’t matter who he was facing, it was going to be tough sledding with the way he was executing his pitches and the conditions today, so we just had to hang in there and try to make something happen in the end and that’s what we did.”
On the offensive side of the game, the Michigan team that hauled in an impressive 12 runs the previous day was nowhere to be found.
While going through eight innings of grueling baseball with almost nothing to show for it could knock the wind out of any team, spirits remained high in the Wolverine dugout. At times, the team looked discouraged, like when Bullock attempted to steal second in the top of the sixth inning and was picked off. The outfielder lingered on the ground, visibly emanating frustration in the previous play.
However, the team was never deterred, just waiting for their opportunity to strike.
“Most teams would get very discouraged when you got nothing going offensively for eight innings, and I think morale would be down, but our guys never got down,” Bakich said. “They were still positive, they were still thinking something good was going to happen.
Added Lewis: “I’d say since we’ve gone on this little streak, I don’t want to jinx anything, but the energy’s been great. Everyone’s up and cheering on everyone else and that’s something we didn’t have at the beginning of the season. That’s an adjustment we made, and it’s paying off so that’s something we’ll continue to do.”