Down by one. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Runners on first and second. It was the stuff of legend.
Redshirt junior outfielder Miles Lewis stepped up to the plate. After taking two balls and fouling one off, Lewis swung at a strike, popping it up into shallow centerfield. To onlookers in the stands, it might have appeared like the game was over.
And yet, as the ball traveled along its downward trajectory it was clear Western Michigan center fielder Conner Henderson was struggling to get under it. To the joy of the Michigan faithful, the stampeding Bronco came up a foot short. Lewis’ blooper landed. Junior pinch-runner Jack Bredeson rounded third and slid home, tying the game at 6-6.
Two at bats later, junior infielder Ako Thomas’ single brought home the winning run, clinching a fifth straight win for the Michigan baseball team.
The Wolverines (9-11 overall) overcame a disastrous start once again. In his first career start, freshman pitcher Blake Beers appeared rattled. Beers walked the first batter he faced on five pitches. Then after hitting the second batter, he walked the third to load the bases. After just 13 pitches, he was pulled.
Redshirt sophomore Ben Keizer didn’t fare much better, walking the first Western Michigan batter he faced. Without swinging the bat once, Western Michigan (9-9) had registered its first run. After a couple of pop-outs, a steal and a wild pitch, the Broncos led 3-0.
Following a 1-2-3 bottom of the first by Michigan, Keizer was back up on the mound. Another walk, a passed ball, a single and a double saw the Broncos double their lead over the Wolverines, 6-0. With one out in the top of the second inning, Michigan pulled Keizer, introducing its third pitcher of the contest in junior Troy Miller.
The bottom of the second went much like the first. Four up, three down for Michigan.
“We dug ourselves a hole early, but we’ve come back before,” said coach Erik Bakich. “We knew we were going to come back again. It was just a mindset thing, that’s different now. We just had to chip away.”
Earlier in the season, the Wolverines might have caved. But not today.
Following a solid third from Miller, the bats came alive for Michigan. Junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann hit a two-RBI single into left field. A hard hit ball by senior catcher Brock Keener proved too much for the first baseman to handle, allowing another run to score and Keener to advance to second. Sophomore outfielder Christan Bullock, who went 3-for-4 on the evening, lined a two-strike double into right, bringing two more Michigan runs across. Just like that, the Wolverines had clawed back to cut the deficit to one.
Innings four through eight were relatively quiet. Michigan rotated several pitchers in, almost one every inning. Freshmen Danny Zimmerman, Angelo Smith and Jeff Criswell pitched particularly well, keeping Michigan within a run of their in-state opponents. Junior William Tribucher pitched the eighth and ninth innings, keeping his stellar 1.84 earned-run average intact and allowing only one hit during that time.
“Our pitchers did an incredible job holding (Western Michigan) down, and putting zeroes up,” Bakich said. “Credit to the pitching staff to not letting them score after the second inning there.”
The Wolverines had opportunities to tie the game multiple times during this period. Instead, they left ten runners on base.
That all changed in the bottom of the ninth. Lewis’ blooper tied the game for the first time since the first inning and advanced freshman slugger Jordan Nwogu to third base, but the best was yet to come.
Freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren was walked to load the bases. Thomas stepped up to the plate, and like he has done multiple times before for the Wolverines, he delivered. After laying off a first-pitch strike, Thomas drove the pitch back up the middle. Nwogu came in to score, as Thomas was mobbed by his elated teammates rounding first, giving Michigan the 7-6 comeback victory.
“I have to give thanks to my teammates for allowing me to come up again,” Thomas said. “A lot of those guys battled. Miles Lewis battled and got a fly ball to drop, and then when I got up there… I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking at all. I got me one I could hit and drilled it.”