This wasn’t how the weekend was supposed to go.
On Friday, the No. 24 Michigan baseball team arrived in Columbus confident. The Wolverines had won eight of their last ten games, including a two-game sweep of in-state rival Michigan State and a weekend series win over a tough Minnesota team. According to Michigan coach Erik Bakich, the Wolverines went into the series “fired up” to face an unranked, 18-16 Ohio State team.
Few anticipated what followed. Michigan dropped the first two games of the series, 10-5 and 10-4, with shaky performances from usually-dominant Nos. 1 and 2 starters, junior left-hander Tommy Henry and junior right-hander Karl Kauffman. The Wolverines avoided a sweep in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, beating the Buckeyes, 6-2.
“It was a disappointing weekend,” Bakich said. “We uncharacteristically didn’t pitch well, we were shaky at times defensively, we didn’t get the clutch hits when we needed to.
“A rivalry series is very emotional. It has all the characteristics, all the look and feel of big-time baseball, whether your opponent is ranked or not. This had the environment and emotion of some of our bigger matchups of the season.”
Friday’s game remained deadlocked through the first third of the contest. The Wolverines got on the board first as sophomore outfielder Jesse Franklin crushed the first pitch he saw for a solo home run to right-center. But the Buckeyes followed with runs of their own, scoring one each in the bottom of the first and third innings. Ohio State then broke the game open with three-run fourth and fifth innings.
The Wolverines didn’t respond strongly enough. Though they notched two runs in the seventh on a single from junior outfielder Jordan Brewer, and two more in the ninth on a two-out single from senior third baseman Blake Nelson, but they failed to build enough momentum to seriously contend for the game.
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader was a similar story. The Buckeyes went on a tear over the first two thirds of the contest, racking up an 8-0 lead by the end of the third inning. Michigan put runs back on the board in the top of the sixth with a three-run double from senior third baseman Jimmy Kerr and tacked on one more in the seventh on a solo home run for sophomore outfielder Jordan Nwogu, but like Friday’s game, the Wolverines were never in contention.
“We got outplayed the first two games,” Bakich said. “We have guys that have some really good weekends, and then have some really bad weekends. Instead of having the extremes of the highs and the lows, baseball is about consistency.”
Saturday’s second game was a bright spot for the Wolverines, though. Sophomore right-hander Jeff Criswell gave Michigan what it needed with 6.2 dominant innings of work in which he didn’t allow a single earned run. The offense finally regained its rhythm by the latter half of Saturday’s doubleheader. Fifth-year senior outfielder Miles Lewis notched two RBI in the game with a grounder to score Nwogu in the sixth and a double to plate Franklin in the seventh. Junior outfielder Dominic Clementi, Franklin, senior second baseman Ako Thomas and Kerr all also earned RBI on the day.
Overall, though Saturday was reassuring in many ways, the weekend was a letdown for the Wolverines, whose consistency issues continue to plague them more than halfway through the year.
“So far this season, we have not played our best baseball yet,” Bakich said. “We need to just continue to trend upwards, and when we have setbacks like this, to use it as growth, to use it as fuel to better our performance in the future.
“If we’re going to be the team that we think we can be, then we’re going to have to play well when it means the most, and a rivalry series is certainly one of those weekends that means the most.”