The No. 22 Michigan baseball team’s Big Ten opening series at Maryland last weekend didn’t exactly go according to plan, as the Wolverines dropped two out of three games to the Terrapins. But Tuesday told a totally different story, as Michigan put on a picture-perfect display.
In their return to Ray Fisher Stadium, just about everything went right for the Wolverines against Toledo, as Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) cruised past the overmatched Rockets (0-3 Mid-American Conference, 5-19) for a 12-0 victory.
The Wolverines’ offense was the star, as Michigan put up its highest scoring total since defeating Loyola Marymount, 14-2, on March 1. Junior catcher Drew Lugbauer went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in and senior centerfielder Johnny Slater contributed with two hits and three RBI to lead a 15-hit, 10-walk onslaught.
However, big moments on defense were what set the tone before the Wolverines got on the scoreboard. Slater slid to make a basket catch for the game’s first out, and in the second inning, sophomore left fielder Miles Lewis sprawled to the turf to catch a hard-hit liner.
“It doesn’t just affect the hitters, it affects the pitchers too,” said junior first basemen Jake Bivens, who went 3-for-5 with two stolen bases. “When they’re working their butts off and throwing good pitches it’s good to make plays behind them, and that carries over to offense to string quality at-bats together.”
That’s exactly what happened in the bottom half of the second inning, when Michigan had four singles, two walks and two stolen bases. Sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas put the Wolverines on the scoreboard first by drawing a bases-loaded walk and later scored on senior shortstop Michael Brdar’s two-out, two-run single to center. Lugbauer kept the inning going for the Wolverines with an RBI single to right field, forcing a Toledo pitching change and putting Michigan ahead early, 4-0.
After impressing in his first start of the season last week against Western Michigan, starting right-hander Jayce Vancena was sharp again. The junior was commanding and methodical, striking out six batters and throwing just 56 pitches in five innings, 42 of which went for strikes. Most notably, he didn’t surrender a single walk, and has yet to do so in 21 innings this season.
“He lets his defense work, and he’s very efficient with his pitches,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He gets to strike one and strike two very quickly. Position players like playing defense behind him because he keeps them engaged because he forces contact. He’s not a guy that nibbles — he works fast and gets action behind him.”
After two scoreless innings on both sides, Michigan struck in the fifth inning. Bivens, who had led off the second inning with a single, kickstarted the Wolverines again, ripping a line drive between center and right field for a leadoff double. After a walk and a hit batter, Thomas and Slater hit back-to-back singles with the bases loaded to drive in three runs.
Michigan didn’t slow its roll with the middle of the order stepping up to the plate. Brdar got enough air under a fly ball for Thomas to score on a sacrifice fly, and Lugbauer roped a liner down the right field line the following at-bat to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 9-0. The final margin would be reached the next inning, with two singles and a walk giving Michigan insurance that it never would be in danger of losing.
With the game essentially out of reach, Michigan took the opportunity to get an extended look at many freshmen and scarcely-used reserves. Junior catcher Brock Keener earned his first hit as a Wolverine, driving in Bivens in the sixth inning, while redshirt freshmen infielders George Hewitt and Joe Pace and freshmen infielder Dominic Clementi and outfielder Jack Weisenburger also received at-bats.
On the mound, freshman right-hander Karl Kauffman, the first hurler out of the bullpen, was in control, striking out four in two innings, while redshirt sophomore left-hander Grant Reuss and sophomore right-hander Jack Bredeson both contributed, tossing one scoreless inning each.
“Anytime we can separate and have a margin, we want to get the guys that train just as hard and invest just as much time the reward of playing time,” Bakich said. “They certainly deserve it. When we have opportunities to get those guys some opportunities to play, we’re certainly going to do it.”
All in all, Tuesday’s performance was an ideal way for Michigan to kick off its 18-game homestand, which will continue on Wednesday against Central Michigan, and later this week with its Big Ten home opener against Penn State.