The No. 21 Michigan baseball team scored 39 runs against Rutgers and 63 in its past five games.
But unlike Friday and Saturday’s contests, the Wolverines (12-5 Big Ten, 34-12 overall) crossed the plate early and often Sunday en route to a 12-5 victory over Rutgers. All of Michigan’s runs against the Scarlet Knights came in the first six innings.
“It’s good to establish a little bit of a cushion,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “It was a good job of the offense not being complacent, not being satisfied, continuing to tack on runs and look to have as many quality at-bats as they can.”
The Wolverines wasted little time getting on the scoreboard as sophomore shortstop Jake Bivens hit a triple down the left field line to lead off the first inning. He scored two batters later when junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti singled to left-center. Michigan was unable to capitalize further as junior catcher Harrison Wenson grounded into a double play.
Senior center fielder Cody Bruder reignited the Wolverines’ offense in the second inning by doubling to left. Sophomore third baseman Drew Lugbauer immediately followed up with a single. Freshman right fielder Jonathan Engelmann brought Bruder home for the first run of the frame with a sacrifice fly to right field after Bruder advanced to third in the previous at-bat.
A single by freshman second baseman Ako Thomas and a pitch that hit Bivens loaded up the bases for fifth-year senior left fielder Matt Ramsay. Ramsay didn’t do much damage, though, as he was hit by the pitch, allowing Lugbauer to walk to home plate and score.
“Right now you have a lot of guys that are seeing the ball well,” Bakich said. “It really isn’t a whole lot more than that.”
The Scarlet Knights responded in the top of the third by taking advantage of Michigan errors.
After Rutgers’ designated hitter R.J. Devish hit a one-out single to center field, he advanced to second on a failed pickoff attempt and a muffed throw. Shortstop Gaby Rosa drew a walk on the next at-bat and reached third while Devish scored on another failed pickoff attempt. Rosa crossed home plate on a groundout in the same at-bat to make the score 3-2.
Senior left-hander Evan Hill put a stop to the Scarlet Knights’ rally when he forced catcher Nick Matera to fly out to right field.
Michigan then undid the damage and then some in the bottom of the third inning.
With the bases loaded and one out, Engelmann earned his second RBI of the afternoon when he grounded out to the pitcher. Two more runs scored when Thomas reached base on a Rutgers fielding error before Bivens grounded out to end the frame.
“When you make a couple of errors that lead to a couple of unearned runs, it’s taking a punch,” Bakich said. “It’s a bit of a self-inflicted punch, but you have to have a response. I thought our guys did that well.”
The Wolverines further extended their lead in the fourth thanks to a two-run home run by Benedetti. But just like in the third inning, Michigan miscues in the top of the fifth proved costly.
After a two-RBI double by Rosa, Rutgers loaded up the bases with two outs. While it appeared that the Wolverines were about to escape the jam, a throwing error by Bivens allowed Scarlet Knights second baseman John Jennings to reach base safely and a run to score. That prompted Bakich to substitute in sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof for junior right-hander Mac Lozer.
Nutof got his job done by striking out the next batter to strand three Rutgers runners before going on to pitch two more scoreless innings.
Engelmann and Thomas led off the frame with a single and a walk, respectively, which brought Bivens to the plate.
Yet Bivens did not have to lift a finger to score Engelmann as two wild pitches ensured that he crossed home plate. Bivens got his RBI in anyway, singling to center field to bring Thomas home. Wenson followed up with a sacrifice fly to give the Wolverines an 11-5 advantage.
“Sometimes you’re going to have kind of an off-day defensively, and we had a couple of blunders,” Benedetti said. “We overcame them and kept the momentum on our side.”
Michigan’s victory combined with Indiana’s 3-2 win over No. 19 Minnesota means that the Wolverines are tied with the Golden Gophers for second place in the Big Ten and one-half game in back of the Hoosiers for the top spot. Michigan, however, will take a break from conference play this week as it travels to Central Michigan on May 11.