EAST LANSING — What looked to be a comfortable lead for the No. 16 Michigan baseball team against Michigan State turned into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.
The Wolverines (9-4 Big Ten, 29-11 overall) led 5-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning before the Spartans rallied to a 7-6 victory, leaving Michigan 0-2 in East Lansing this season.
“You have to be able to recover quick,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Part of being mentally tough is to be a quick-recovery kid or a quick-recovery team.”
Michigan State (9-5 Big Ten, 29-11 overall) finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh when catcher Matt Byars launched a solo home run over the left-center field wall.
But it was the eighth inning when the Spartans did their damage.
It all started when with two on and no one out, and Michigan State center fielder Brandon Hughes hit a double to drive in a run and narrow the margin to three.
For a moment, it appeared that Michigan might limit the damage as freshman right-hander Will Tribucher got a force out at home plate with the bases loaded.
That quickly proved to be an illusion as left fielder Marty Bechina hit a two-run single to center field. A wild pitch allowed the runners to advance to second and third before Byars tied the game with an RBI single.
Designated hitter Zach McGuire gave the Spartans the lead on the next at-bat with a single that drove in two runs. Sophomore right-hander Bryan Pall finally stopped the bleeding for the Wolverines when he got the next two Michigan State batters to ground out.
“Tip of the cap to (the Spartans),” said senior center fielder Cody Bruder. “They were putting good swings on the ball and making things work.”
Michigan did not go down without a fight, though. Down 7-5 in the final frame, sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens hit an RBI double to cut the deficit to one. But it was too little too late, as fifth-year senior center fielder Matt Ramsay flied out to center field to end the game.
The Wolverines scored as many runs in the first inning as they did in the first 10 innings of their 4-3 triumph Friday night.
With a runner on second base and one out, junior catcher Harrison Wenson sent a single up the middle to drive in a run.
It was Bruder, though, who made the biggest waves as he smacked a two-run homer — his first of the season — over the left field wall.
“Every hit is great,” Bruder said. “To get that one in the home-run column is pretty nice for everyone.”
The Wolverines struck again in the top of the third as Bivens led off with a single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Ramsay followed up with a perfectly executed bunt single down the third-base line that moved Bivens to third.
Two batters later, Wenson hit a sacrifice fly left field to drive in Bivens and give Michigan a 4-0 advantage.
Wenson gave Michigan more breathing room in the fifth when he hit a two-out, RBI double past the left fielder. He finished Saturday with two hits in three at-bats and three RBI.
“(Wenson) did a good job of staying connected with the guys on base in front of him,” Bakich said. “He’s just trying to knock in the guys that are on base.”
Sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie started for the Wolverines on Saturday and stymied Michigan State’s offense through the first seven innings, allowing only one run on four hits through that span. He pitched into the eighth inning and was pulled with two runners on and the score at 5-2 during Michigan’s meltdown.
“I thought (Jaskie) was mixing his pitches well,” Bakich said. “I thought he kept (the Spartans) off balance. I thought he did a good job of attacking the zone. It’s unfortunate that he’s not celebrating with his teammates right now.”
Saturday’s defeat leaves the Wolverines in third place in the Big Ten — one game behind Minnesota and a half game behind Indiana. Michigan can still enter a tie for first Sunday, however, with a victory against the Michigan State and losses by both the Golden Golphers and the Hoosiers.