Michigan’s high powered schedule took them to the West Coast yet again this weekend. But the California sunshine was the only consistent part of the trip for the Wolverines.
Spotty offensive play plagued the No. 16 Michigan baseball team (8-7) as it fell to No. 24 Pepperdine (12-3) 2-1 in its weekend series. The Waves won the opening game 14-2 and split the doubleheader on Saturday, with the Wolverines winning the first game 7-4 before dropping the final game, 6-1.
In the first game of the series, a slow start doomed the Wolverines from the onset, leading to a 12-2 loss.
“We came up flat, didn’t have a lot of intensity,” freshman third baseman Ted Burton said. “They took advantage of us when we were down. We’ll be better intensity wise and playing-wise.”
The Waves have the highest batting average of Michigan’s opponents thus far and their heavy bats manifested themselves quickly. After going down in order in the top of the first, junior right-hander Jeff Criswell got behind in the strike count in several at-bats. Ultimately, in the first inning alone he allowed three hits and three runs.
“Whether it was finishing a hitter off with two strikes or putting the final out in the inning with two outs (we were unable to get out of the inning),” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.
Criswell started to settle down and finished the day throwing five innings with seven strikeouts and not allowing another run past the first inning.
The lone highlight of the opening game was junior shortstop Jack Blomgren’s production at the plate. Blomgren went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI, including a solo home run. His offensive production allowed Michigan to chip away at the deficit.
But, the Wolverines left runners in scoring position multiple times. Blomgren’s home run may have cut the deficit to one run, but because Michigan left runners stranded earlier, it ultimately did not affect the outcome.
“We knew that their starting pitching is very good,” Bakich said. “We knew they are an older team. It’s a great offense that’s just got a lot of power. We knew we had to play well. Unfortunately, they capitalized on all of our mistakes.”
To begin the day Saturday, the Wolverines looked like a completely different team. Redshirt freshman left-hander Steven Hajjar threw a career-high six innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters. Solidifying himself as the second pitcher in the rotation, he found success in his fastball and his off-speed pitches, his curveball and changeup, to keep Pepperdine batters off balance.
“We’re not a team that likes to get kicked around,” Hajjar said. “We go in and lose 14-2 that will fire anyone up. Coach Bakich gave us a good pregame speech that we need to earn this team’s respect and I think that fired me up personally.”
The offense complemented Hajjar’s pitching by scoring four runs in the third inning and taking advantage of walks. Lead-off hitter junior Jordan Nwogu went 2-for-5 with one RBI, bouncing back from the first game where he went 0-for-4.
“We are a team that has the ability to win this series and that’s what we showed in the second game,” Hajjar said.
The final game of the weekend started off hot with Nwogu hitting the second ball he saw for a home-run, but Michigan was unable to capitalize on this momentum.
“I think the problem is that we didn’t use that to gain momentum,” Nwogu said. “We struggled the rest of the game to string quality at-bats together. I think sporadically we put together some good at-bats but not enough to plate runs.”
Nwogu recorded the only two hits of the day, but the Wolverines were able to get a total of 10 baserunners via hit-by-pitch and walks. But they were unable to get many runners past second base and ultimately couldn’t bring home any of the runners.
“We got a lot of runners to first and second but that’s about where they stopped,” Bakich said. “When your playing from behind and you’re down 4-1 and 6-1 and you can get the first two guys on, you can bunt them over. But a bunt at the point in the game when you’re down 4-1 we don’t really want to give up an out just to advance runners.”
Junior left-hander Blake Beers pitched five innings, allowing five hits and three runs. Michigan dipped into the bullpen three times, but its offensive struggles did nothing to help the pitchers out.
“I think that we don’t have a problem with effort or anything like that we are really giving it our all it just didn’t happen for us today,” Beers said. “The biggest thing that we can take out of today is that we are giving it our all it’s just not happening for us right now.
“It’s not a bad thing it seems like right now it’s just not all coming together.”