Graduate right-hander Joe Pace stood on the mound with his team up two scores against Ohio State, able to put Michigan in a position to widen its lead and close out the game in the bottom of the inning.
After walking his first batter, Pace and the Wolverine defense gave up three runs to shift the entire momentum of the game into the Buckeyes’ favor.
The No. 25 Michigan baseball team (13-7 Big Ten) opened the first of its three-game series against Ohio State (13-7) with a 7-4 loss behind poor late-game performances on both sides of the ball.
“They outplayed us the last final three innings,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “I thought our preparation was good all week, I thought our guys were locked in. All of our mistakes today were aggressive mistakes. We just got to execute better, that’s really all it is.”
In the first inning, sophomore right-hander Steven Hajjar started the game for Michigan and immediately gave up a double. As he had all season, Hajjar rose to the occasion and struck out each of the Buckeyes’ next three batters to prevent any runs.
On the other side of the ball, the Wolverines’ offense couldn’t capitalize on their scoring positions. Sophomore catcher Jordon Rogers managed to reach second after an Ohio State error and a steal, but was caught attempting to steal third. Fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur hit a single to centerfield, but Michigan struck out to end the scoreless inning.
With Hajjar back on the mound in the second inning, the Wolverine defense continued to prevent any runs by relieving each of the Buckeyes’ first three batters. After a single from fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems, another Ohio State error allowed sophomore infielder Ted Burton to reach first base, setting up a single by sophomore Tito Flores to notch a run for Michigan.
The score remained stagnant until the bottom of the fourth, when sophomore Ted Burton hit a single to midfield and stole second, followed by another RBI single by Flores to push the Wolverines 2-0. The Buckeyes finally scored in the fifth after hitting a triple and a groundout, followed by an RBI single with a runner on third to even the score 2-2.
After a rough inning, junior right-hander Will Proctor relieved Hajjar in the sixth, rejuvenating the Michigan defense by striking out the first batter he faced and grounding out the next two. Proctor’s spark motivated the Wolverine offense, with sophomore infielder/outfielder Clark Elliott hitting a single and reaching second on an error, and Flores continuing his hitting clinic by crushing the game-defining home run into left field to put Michigan up 4-2.
“(Flores) has been hitting the ball really hard lately with nothing to show for it,” Bakich said. “He’s had a few atom balls recently, so it was good to see those clutch hits fall for him. The homer was a massive blast to take the lead.”
Through the last three innings of the game, Michigan struggled on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines made three different pitching changes, including when Pace gave up three runs in the seventh inning to put Ohio State up 5-4 heading into the ninth.
“We’ll ride or die with Joe Pace any day,” Bakich said. “He’s been so consistent for 19-straight games. I think Joe was so fired up, he’s been a part of this rivalry for a long time. It didn’t go his way, but we’ll give the ball right back to him as early as tomorrow. We’ve got all the faith in the world in those guys.”
The Buckeyes added on two insurance runs to close out the game after Michigan failed to mount a late-game comeback. Despite five errors by Ohio State, the Wolverines were outmatched offensively and inconsistent on defense through the second half of the game. While strong pitching and defense have served as a foundation for Michigan even in its losses, Hajjar and the bullpen rotation weren’t able to close the deal when it mattered the most.
“I thought we were going to hold them to two runs and that was the separator, but at the end of the day their bullpen held us down for the final three frames,” Bakich said.
“When your opponent makes mistakes, you’ve got to find a way to turn it into scoring opportunities. The three outs on the bases are the most we’ve made all season, so we’ll have to clean that up, but we’re not going to stop being aggressive. We’re going to be aggressive up to the line of crossing over to avoid making stupid decisions.”