Inconsistency has been the one consistency for the Wolverines this season.
Prior to its series against Bowling Green, Michigan (7-11 overall) hadn’t won consecutive games. Against the Falcons, (3-15 overall) that all changed. Coming off the back of an embarrassing loss to Lawrence Tech — an NAIA team — that epitomized the youthful Wolverines’ struggles thus far, a string of good performances was needed.
“When you’re 4-11, everything’s on the table,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “There’s nothing really set in stone when a team’s had the atrocious start that we’ve had, it couldn’t be any worse compared to what the expectation level for the program is.”
The start of the series brought significant changes to the lineup. Junior Matt Schmidt also came in at first base for his first career start at Michigan. Junior Jimmy Kerr gave way to Blake Nelson at third base and Dominic Clementi replaced fellow sophomore Christian Bullock in right field.
But the most influential lineup change came in the form of freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu. The Ann Arbor native trotted out into left field instead of veteran Miles Lewis.
Nwogu had himself a day. In his first career start, he went 2-for-3 with a double, two runs batted in and a run scored. The run was his most impressive feat of the day, though. With the score tied 6-6 in the fifth inning, his double had just pushed Nelson to third. Freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren laid down a suicide squeeze, sending Nelson home. A throw to first gave Nwogu just enough of a chance to round third and beat out a throw home. That display of determination and raw speed seemed to officially endear the young outfielder to his teammates and the Wolverine faithful.
“Big credit to him, because I know he had a hard transition in the fall,” said sophomore left-hander Tommy Henry. “He has just worked his butt off the entire time since then, and you see it translating onto the field.”
A two-sport athlete in high school, Nwogu was a star defensive end for the Pioneer High School football team and a promising baseball player. But focusing on both meant he wasn’t as polished at either.
“I wasn’t very developed coming in,” Nwogu said. “I was just big and fast. I wasn’t very good baseball IQ-wise and baseball savvy, but what the coaching staff here is doing is something special. I didn’t know much about baseball, I would just go up and hit the ball hard. Coach Bakich, Coach Schnabel and Coach DiLaura, they’ve helped me figure out my swing, and now I guess it’s coming around.”
That would be an understatement at this point. Nwogu’s contributions this weekend didn’t end Friday night, as he would go on to start both Saturday’s and Sunday’s game.
Saturday, he went 2-for-3 again, blasting a two-run homer over the brick wall in left and adding two more RBIs with a single up the middle and a stolen base.
Sunday, the crowd was treated to more of the same, as he went 3-for-4 with another two RBIs in a win that cemented the series sweep.
Having only started three games, Nwogu is tied for third on the team with eight RBIs and fifth in hits. Three starts for Nwogu, three wins for Wolverines. Coincidence? Maybe. But undoubtedly, the introduction of Nwogu has been a spark for Michigan, and though not alone in the effort, he has brought an understated swagger to a team that desperately needed it.
“It’s exactly what we needed,” Bakich said. “We needed someone to come in and just have a hell of a weekend. He impacted the game offensively every single game. He’s starting to really put it together. I couldn’t be more pleased and happy for him because he works extremely hard. He’s been very patient. He’s a guy that’s never going to complain or bitch about anything. He’s just a worker and just a very positive kid. It’s good to see the game rewarding a guy like that.”