Neither the Michigan baseball team’s offense nor Toledo’s produced many fireworks in the early innings of Wednesday’s game.
But it was senior catcher Harrison Wenson who launched the decisive blow — a home run in the bottom of the eighth — that propelled No. 18 Michigan (6-2 Big Ten, 26-9 overall) to a 2-1 victory over the Rockets (3-6 Mid-American, 8-29-1).
“Even though there wasn’t much rhythm and flow to that game, I just knew something good was about to happen,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Luckily we found a way (to win). It wasn’t pretty at times, but that’s the way it goes.”
It took until the seventh inning for the Wolverines to get on the scoreboard.
Freshman second baseman Ako Thomas led off the frame with a triple down the right field line before senior left fielder Matt Ramsay hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring Thomas home and tie the game at one.
“We had the top of the (batting) order up,” Bakich said. “So we were very confident that (Thomas) would score.”
Though Michigan failed to score further in the seventh, Wenson blasted the first pitch of the eighth frame far over the left field wall to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game.
“I knew right off the bat that that ball was gone,” Wenson said. “I was just glad that I was able to do that for my teammates.”
But the pitching staff carried Michigan for most of the contest. Sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof started the game and pitched just two innings, but even in a short outing still, Nutof still delivered by striking out two and not allowing a single run to score.
He was relieved by fellow sophomore right-hander Jayce Vancena, who turned in a three-inning gem as he allowed no hits, walked two and struck out two.
“The defense played great behind me,” Vancena said. “I just filled up the (strike) zone and let the defense work behind me.”
Despite Vancena and Nutof’s efforts, it was junior southpaw Carmen Benedetti who earned the win for Michigan when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning just before Wenson launched his solo shot. Junior right-hander Jackson Lamb notched the save, his first of the season, as he escaped from a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the ninth.
“We knew that when Lamb was on the mound, that he was going to pull it out for us,” Wenson said.
The Wolverines did have multiple chances to cross home plate earlier in the game, though.
Michigan’s first scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Wenson hit a double and sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. A balk allowed each of them to advance another 90 feet, but neither man crossed the plate as junior shortstop Michael Brdar struck out swinging to end the frame.
The Wolverines faced another chance to get on the board in the bottom of the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Benedetti, who was playing in right field prior to taking the mound in the eighth, and Wenson were due up to bat.
Both hit pop ups to the infield, which extinguished Michigan’s rally and stranded three more runners on base.
“I’ve got to credit (Toledo’s) pitchers a little bit,” Wenson said. “They kept us off balance.”
The offensive sluggishness didn’t seem to bother the pitchers, though.
“Our offense is going to put the ball in play hard, and that’s what we did,” Vancena said. “It just didn’t happen in the first few innings, but I had confidence that they would get the job done.”
Toledo broke the deadlock in the top of the sixth when junior right-hander Mac Lozer gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning.
Lozer then struck out the next batter before getting the Rockets’ designated hitter John Martillotta to hit a ground ball to Thomas, who tossed it to Brdar to get the out at second. It appeared that Michigan might preserve the scoreless tie.
But Brdar threw the ball past Lugbauer, allowing a run to score and keeping the frame alive.
Thomas and Wenson prevented further damage when they connected to catch Martillotta stealing second base for the third out. Toledo maintained its 1-0 advantage until after the seventh-inning stretch.
“(The play) prevented a runner from reaching scoring position,” Bakich said. “It gave the momentum back to us.”
With Wednesday’s victory, Michigan swept its five-game homestand and improved to 10-2 at Ray Fisher Stadium. The Wolverines will have to leave the comforts of home, though, as they are slated to travel to Iowa for a three-game series beginning Friday.