In the bottom of the second inning, fifth-year center fielder Joe Stewart stepped up to the plate in a newly tied game with the bases loaded, hoping to send a clear message. Stewart’s response to the Buckeyes’ offense was clear — and it was something he would reiterate all game.
With one swing of the bat, Stewart put another four runs on the board with a shot to dead center, easily clearing the wall for a grand slam.
The Wolverines (22-15 overall, 8-3 Big Ten) defeated Ohio State (12-23, 2-10) on Saturday behind Stewart’s hot bat. His eleven RBI performance, which included three home runs — two of which were grand slams — led to Michigan’s 16-13 victory.
“(Stewart is) very confident now and it’s just great to see,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “I would put Joe (Stewart’s) offensive performance today with anyone else in the country.”
And on Saturday, the Wolverines needed that stellar performance to survive a late game push by the Buckeyes.
Ohio State looked to rebound from Friday’s loss, and it came out swinging.
In the first inning it stranded two men on base; however, in the second, the Buckeyes took an early lead thanks to a bases loaded two-out double, putting Michigan in a two run deficit.
But the Ohio State pitching didn’t come out with the same intensity.
In the bottom of the second, a walk and a hit-by-pitch got the first two Wolverines on base. Then a wild pitch advanced both runners into scoring position.
A groundout scored junior catcher Jimmy Obertop, and a single from fifth-year third baseman Matt Frey brought junior designated hitter Tito Flores home from second base.
Then, Stewart capped the inning off with a monstrous grand slam, giving Michigan the lead 6-2.
“The guys executed,” Bakich said. “The guys did a really good job of holding the strike zone.”
In the third inning, the Buckeyes’ pitching struggles continued. The Wolverines loaded the bases on three walks, which caused Ohio State to call upon its bullpen. A fourth walk and a single scored two more Michigan runs.
“I think we had a really good approach going in on how we’re gonna attack that starter,” Stewart said. “The goal is to get him out early.”
But for Stewart, it didn’t matter who was on the mound.
Just one inning after his grand slam, facing a new pitcher, Stewart stepped into the box with the bases loaded once again. He connected, smashing the ball over the left-field wall, giving him his first career multi-homer game.
“Today was just kind of sticking with it.” Stewart said. “I got a hanging breaking ball … so that’s pretty awesome.”
Even then, Stewart was not done with the Buckeyes. After a scoreless fourth, he came up to bat in the fifth. The ball didn’t stand a chance as it too was catapulted over the left-field wall for a two-run homer, giving Stewart his tenth RBI of the game, and puting Michigan up 14-2.
Ohio State got a couple runs back in the top of the seventh, but the Wolverines matched with two runs of their own. .
Despite a 16-4 advantage , the game was far from over.
The Buckeyes put everything it had into a comeback. In the top of the eighth they loaded the bases and hit a grand slam of their own.
In the ninth, Michigan freshman right-hander Avery Goldensoph was called in to finish off the Buckeyes. When Goldensoph took the mound, the Wolverines led by seven; when he left, the advantage was down to three runs.
Although the late-game collapse on the mound threatened to spoil Michigan’s offensive surge, junior left-hander Jacob Denner finished the job, securing a win for the Wolverines.
Despite a rocky bullpen performance, Michigan survived thanks to its bats and an incredible show from Stewart.