Against Rutgers on Saturday, The Michigan baseball team continued to battle like it did all series.
For the Wolverines, it came into Saturday with two wins already this weekend, and with a win on Saturday, the Scarlet Knights would be swept for the first time in two years.
While Michigan (28-25, 12-12 Big Ten) had been successful all game in capitalizing on runners in scoring position, it would not regain the lead after mid-game mistakes, falling to Rutgers (41-15, 17-7), 18-12.
The Wolverines secured the five-seed in the Big Ten Tournament before the game, essentially making the game irrelevant for playoff implications for the Wolverines. On top of that, senior day gave Michigan coach Erik Bakich the opportunity to use players that haven’t seen much time this season.
Senior left-hander Jack White started the game for the second time this week. While White did not give up four runs like he did in the first inning against Michigan State on Tuesday, he gave up two runs in 1.1 innings to cut his day short.
On the other side, the Scarlet Knights started right-hander Sam Portnoy, also a typical relief pitcher. This made the game far from a pitching duel.
With those pitching situations, the game opened up in the third inning.
Michigan found itself down 2-0, but it fought back as it has done all series. After a leadoff double by senior shortstop Riley Bertram, junior first baseman Jake Marti and right fielder Clark Elliott got themselves on base with walks. From there, grad transfer Joe Stewart did what he has done all season — drive them in. With a dribbler up the middle, Michigan tied the game up with new life.
And the inning did not stop there.
During a double steal attempt, Elliott appeared to be caught until Rutgers’ pitcher overthrew the third baseman and allowed Elliott to trot home for the lead. An RBI single from junior catcher Jimmy Obertop followed that up and gave the Wolverines a two-run advantage.
Despite the big inning, Rutgers took the lead right back in the fourth frame. Sophomore left-hander Logan Wood quickly found himself in a deep hole following two hit-by-pitches and a bunt single that loaded the bases with one out.
While senior right-hander Keaton Carattini came in to relieve Wood, the Scarlet Knights pounced on him immediately, doubling to score two and hitting a two-run home run that gave Rutgers a 7-4 lead.
Michigan fought back again, though. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Marti and Elliott hit RBI singles to cut the lead to one before Stewart hit a sacrifice flyball to tie the game up at seven.
The turning point in the game was the fifth inning for the Wolverines. After its failed attempt to take the lead, the Scarlet Knights pressed their foot on the gas pedal and did not let up.
After junior outfielder Tito Flores drew a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch, junior left-fielder Joey Velasquez hit a screamer off of the tall left-field wall. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Flores attempted to tag up instead of run halfway down the line, which made it impossible for him to score. Even with runners on second and third and no outs, the Wolverines failed to score, leaving the game knotted up.
A two-run home run in the seventh by right-fielder Ritchie Schiekofer extended Rutgers’ lead to three.
While Michigan scraped one run to get a little closer, the Scarlet Knights shut the door in the eighth behind an RBI single and a three-run shot by third baseman Tony Santa Maria that put them up 14-8.
With one more surprise up his sleeve before the season concluded, Bakich decided to put in graduate transfer first baseman Jack van Remortal to pitch in the ninth inning with the bases loaded. Woefully for Van Remortal, he gave up four runs in what appeared to be batting practice for the Scarlet Knights.
In the end, it was a tune-up game for the Big Ten Tournament that starts Wednesday. Bakich has made it apparent all season that the Wolverines can hit, and that did not change on Saturday.
However, he did not use any of his high leverage pitchers — sending a message that he is saving his best arms for the tournament. After winning two of three against a team that was fighting for the top seed in the conference, Michigan hopes it is peaking just at the right time.