On Sunday, it was do-or-die for the Michigan baseball team.
After winning two straight against top-4 seeds, the Wolverines (31-26 overall) found their match in 3-seeded Iowa (36-19), who shutdown their surging offense the night before and forced a Sunday afternoon matchup to decide who would advance to the Big Ten championship game.
Instead of repeating their offensive woes — and despite some controversy — Michigan made the most of its opportunities, winning the survival game 13-1 to come one game closer to a Big Ten Championship.
The Wolverines wasted no time getting started, as a full count walk of junior right fielder Clark Elliott immediately turned into a stolen base. After graduate third baseman Matt Frey was walked on four straight balls, Michigan again sent runners into motion and sucessfully put them on second and third with a double steal.
While the Wolverines were unable to capitalize on a first inning RISP situation Saturday night, junior catcher Jimmy Obertop and senior shortstop Riley Bertram found just enough room to plate both runners with base hits, putting the score at 2-0.
After the first inning’s scoring run however, both teams went quiet. The second inning saw the most significant action, with a controversial pick-off of junior left fielder Joey Velasquez at second base that coach Erik Bakich immediately requested a review of.
After several minutes of reviewing the play, the umpires ruled the play stood as called, much to the chagrin of the Michigan dugout.
On the mound, sophomore left-hander Connor O’Halloran and the Wolverines’ defense stymied Iowa from capitalizing on walked batters, allowing just one hit through the first three innings.
Obertop in particular made a strong play behind the plate in the bottom of the third, tracking a pop-up through the strong winds and making an out-saving catch at the very edge of the backstop.
The defensive shutout gave Michigan time to pick their spot, and it was picked in the fourth inning. After a single, hit-by-pitch and fielding error loaded the bases with no outs, junior first baseman Jake Marti and Elliott hit back-to-back sacrifice flies, plating two more to push the lead to four.
Instead of wilting under the pressure however, the Hawkeyes capitalized on multiple Wolverine miscues in the next half of the inning — cutting the lead by a run after junior second baseman Ted Burton bounced a routine throw past O’Halloran to the dugout.
With O’Halloran being pulled in favor of senior right-hander Willie Weiss in the fifth, Michigan looked to be settling into a routine. That routine was suddenly disrupted, however, just two batters in.
Midway through the second batter, the umpires suddenly convened. When they separated, Weiss was ejected from the game due to the presence of sticky substances on his glove. Broadcast replays showed the right hander rubbing the area of the glove inspected by umpires with his throwing hand.
In Weiss’ stead, junior right-hander Cameron Weston was brought into the game in an emergency relief situation. Despite the chaos surrounding his entering the game, Weston kept the defense calm, recording all three outs in the sixth followed by adding two strikeouts in the seventh.
The Wolverines’ offense came alive in the next half inning, as a pair of doubles from junior designated hitter Tito Flores and junior second baseman Ted Burton respectively plated five runs to blow the game wide open.
After Flores and Burton helped give Michigan an impressive lead, Elliott pushed the Wolverines towards a mercy rule victory with a 3-RBI triple — putting the game past the threshold with an 11-run lead. The lead was pushed further to 13-1 after Elliott scored on a sacrifice fly from graduate center fielder Joe Stewart.
Despite two hits that putting a runner just 90 feet away from the plate in the bottom of the seventh, the Hawkeyes were unable to cut into the deficit in the bottom half of the inning, sealing a Big Ten Championship game appearance for Michigan.