On Sunday, the Michigan baseball team learned the difference a day can make. After taking their first two games in the series against Illinois, the Wolverines fell to the Fighting Illini in the third game of the series, 7-5.
Sunday’s game closely mirrored Friday’s. In both games, Michigan fell into a hole early, surrendering six and seven runs, respectively, through the first three innings. The only difference was the Wolverines’ ability to forge a rally.
While they made an impressive comeback in Friday’s outing to steal the game, 9-8, the resurgence wasn’t in the cards Sunday.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with one out, sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas started off the effort by taking base after being hit by a pitch. With the tying run at the plate, senior centerfielder Johnny Slater hit a single to left field to put two men on base.
In a situation like that, senior shortstop Michael Brdar is the one player the Wolverines would want at the plate. Coming into Sunday’s game, he carried a 17-game hitting streak and had his chance to extend it in the ninth frame. Unfortunately for Michigan, that streak came to an end. Brdar popped a ball up to left field for the second out.
With one more out to work with, junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer stepped to the plate. He has come to be known as the player who can provide for Michigan in big moments. Lugbauer is no stranger to walk-off home runs, as he hit a three-run home run against Northern Illinois on March 19. He currently has nine home runs on the season, with the most recent being a grand slam in Friday’s game against Illinois to help the Wolverines overcome their deficit.
The two-ball, two-strike, two-out pitch was perfect. Lugbauer crushed it towards the left-field wall. But the high winds forced the ball foul — robbing him of the walk-off home run — and he struck out swinging on the next pitch to end the game.
“I don’t want to say there is (complacency), but that’s obviously a slight part of it,” said junior right-hander Alec Rennard. “I think that is one factor, you don’t want to get complacent, you want to stay hungry. No matter how much you win by, you always want to focus on how much you didn’t do right.”
The loss ended a nine-game winning streak for the Wolverines, who have been prone to pull out comeback wins as of late. Michigan came back from a three-run deficit Tuesday against Notre Dame and a seven-run deficit Friday against the Fighting Illini.
“We kind of just felt like we knew we were going to comeback the whole time,” Lugbauer said Friday. “Even when we were down seven, we were like ‘Alright, whatever.’ … We were smiling and laughing, no worries, that’s just kind of the team we have this year.”
While this mindset worked Friday, it may have hurt Michigan on Sunday.
The Wolverines weren’t able to connect their hits like they had earlier in the series. Friday and Saturday’s game saw a lot of action from Michigan, as they totaled 25 hits through two days. On Sunday, though, just five players combined nine team hits.
“It’s just that early deficit where we’ve been fortunate to be able to comeback and come out on top,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It didn’t end up that way today. That’s what happens when you play with fire that many times, eventually you get burned.
“It’s too bad we had to learn this lesson this way. But if I know this group at all, which I do, they’ll bounce right back.”