What a difference a day makes.
Michigan State left-hander Alex Troop took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Michigan baseball team Thursday. Friday, Spartan right-hander Jake Lowery exited the game in the first inning after allowing three runs without recording an out.
With their lineup rediscovering its slugging ways, the 16th-ranked Wolverines (41-13 overall, 15-8 Big Ten) romped to an 11-6 victory over Michigan State (29-22, 9-12) on Senior Day at Ray Fisher Stadium.
“Losing like we did yesterday, it hurt us,” said senior catcher Harrison Wenson. “Just the story of our season and the team that we have — just a bounce-back team, not going to keep us down for long. We came out strong and punched them right in the mouth.”
Michigan’s onslaught began when junior first baseman Jake Bivens doubled off the base of the wall in left field and senior centerfielder Johnny Slater drew a walk. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar then singled through the left side, followed by junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer’s walk that drove in the first run. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Miles Lewis then hit a two-RBI single to right field to end Lowery’s outing early, and a sacrifice fly by sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier tacked on another run.
The second inning was more of the same. Wenson and Bivens both walked, and a Slater single loaded the bases with no outs for a second time. Brdar drove in a run with a carbon copy of his hit from the first inning, and Lugbauer ripped a two-RBI double to right field.
On the other side of the ball, the Spartans had just as much trouble with junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie as they had facing the Wolverine hitters. Jaskie set the tone with two strikeouts to lead off, and allowed just one run, a third-inning double by first baseman Zack McGuire.
On-and-off showers and humid conditions throughout the day could have theoretically impacted the flight of the ball, but it certainly didn’t appear that way. Michigan consistently hit the ball long and hard — Lugbauer and Wenson both hit mammoth shots in their first at-bats that just curved foul.
Wenson would hit another blast in the third inning — only this time, it was fair, to straightaway left field. His home run — his ninth of the season — also scored sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann and extended the Wolverines’ lead to 9-1.
“It’s pretty funny, for once the wind was blowing out when I hit one that could have easily got blown back in,” Wenson said. “I’ve gotten a few this year that have gotten killed by the wind. I’ll remember that hit for a long time. Happy I got to do it for the team, do it for the seniors and do it for the University of Michigan.”
Added Jaskie: “I think (the home run) meant the world to him. He does so well behind the plate, and he’s such a good teammate. He deserved that moment.”
Through four innings, Jaskie had been his usual dominant self, with six strikeouts and just three hits allowed. But in the fifth inning he ran into trouble, as the first three Michigan State hitters reached base against him, scoring a run in the process. The Spartans used this surge to jump back into the game, cutting their deficit in half, and capped off the inning on a home run by second baseman Dan Durkin.
However, any potential momentum for Michigan State was immediately extinguished by Michigan’s bullpen. Senior right-hander Mac Lozer delivered a 1-2-3 sixth inning, striking out two in the process. And the Wolverines’ defense — which possesses the sixth-highest fielding percentage in the nation — came through when Lozer was threatened with two men on and one out in the seventh inning, as Brdar quickly swallowed up a ground ball and began a textbook 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
After four scoreless innings — an eternity relative to the first three — Michigan found the scoreboard again in its last turn at the plate. Brdar drove home Bivens with his fourth hit of the contest, and Lewis picked up an RBI on a forceout.
The Spartans didn’t quit, though, scoring a run against freshman left-hander Tommy Henry in the ninth inning. The Wolverines brought in redshirt junior right-hander Jackson Lamb to finish the job, and he recorded a bases-loaded punchout to end the game — and Michigan’s home slate.
Fittingly for the final home game of the season, Friday’s contest was dominated by the Wolverine seniors. Brdar tied a career-high with his four hits, Slater reached base three times, Wenson was once again solid behind the plate to pair with his home run, and Lozer and Lamb made important contributions from the bullpen. Even right-hander Keith Lehmann, who did not make an appearance, was the “loudest guy out of the dugout,” according to Michigan coach Erik Bakich.
“We wouldn’t be where we are as a team without all of our seniors,” Bakich said. “They’re an extremely special group. Can’t say enough about them and what they’ve meant, not only to the program but the impact they’ve had on the younger players who will carry what they’ve learned from those seniors and older guys to future teams.”
One part of Michigan’s season is now over. But there’s still plenty left to fight for — chiefly, the Big Ten championship. To claim their first regular-season title since 2008, the Wolverines need to win in East Lansing tomorrow, and also for Penn State to defeat first-place Nebraska.
Certainly, Michigan’s only focus will be on taking the series from its in-state rival. But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines don’t know what else is at stake.
“We’re focused on our approach to our games,” Brdar said. “There’s no scoreboard watching.”
Added Wenson: “We’re just tyring to block it out. We understand that it’s a close race, and we gotta play our best baseball. We know what’s going on.”