Prior to the Michigan baseball team’s game against Central Michigan, freshman Jesse Franklin was showing out in batting practice, crushing balls to right and center field. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, the first baseman looks the part, and after a tough transition earlier in the season, he’s putting it all together.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 13-11 overall) clung to a one-run lead against the Chippewas (2-1 MAC, 7-16-1 overall). Similar to batting practice, Franklin found one in his sweet spot and smoked a solo shot over the right field wall.
Though the Michigan pitching staff proceeded to give up two runs in the top of the seventh, Franklin’s homer sparked the Wolverines offensively for the rest of the game.
Along with sophomore outfielder Dominic Clementi, who lined a single into right to bring home two runs, Franklin drove in another run in the bottom of the seventh.
In the eighth, up by three, Franklin continued to deliver. Stepping up with runners in scoring position once again, the freshman hit a gapper that plated two more to give Michigan a comfortable 8-3 lead.
Central Michigan was able to tack on two more runs in the bottom of the ninth, but the Wolverines’ lead proved to be insurmountable, winning 8-5.
The game started off fairly slowly for both sides, but the Chippewas broke the deadlock in the second inning via a sacrifice bunt. Michigan coach Erik Bakich pulled junior right-hander Troy Miller for freshman lefty Angelo Smith.
“Troy was on a 45-pitch limit just so we could have him in relief for Friday and Saturday, with the doubleheader Saturday,” Bakich said. “With Angelo, we were just going to go one inning, but he was throwing so well, and the game was so close. We just felt we needed to keep him in there.”
Smith provided the much-needed bridge from the third inning to the seventh. Smith kept Central Michigan scoreless, allowing only one hit.
“He really showed us something today,” Bakich said. “I thought he did an outstanding job attacking the zone, being very aggressive and consistent with all his pitches and his execution. I thought that was great to see.”
Another freshman, Jordan Nwogu started at left field, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Franklin, Smith and Nwogu’s successes are the continuation of a trend this season. The freshmen have stepped up to help turn their team’s season around.
“Besides having really good upperclassmen role models, I think the biggest thing is just that all of the coaches really believe in us,” Franklin said. “Even if we do poorly in the field, they still encourage us, and I think deep down they really think we can do it. You can really see and feel that when you talk to them.”
The freshmen may have catalyzed the victory, but sophomore outfielder Christian Bullock and juniors Jonathan Engelmann and Blake Nelson consistently got on base, combining for four runs and three stolen bases between them.
“A lot of guys contributed,” Bakich said. “A lot of guys came off the bench and made a difference. A lot of different pitchers were used in the game, so it was very much a total team effort even though the freshmen seemed to shine.”