The last time the Michigan baseball team was on the west coast, they left with more questions than answers. The Wolverines’ offense was quiet as they took their first loss of the season at California State University-Northridge on Mar. 3, and it struggled to find a rhythm for the remainder of the trip, suffering defeats at the hands of Long Beach State, USC and Oklahoma State. A victory over No. 1 UCLA was one of few bright spots on the week-long California swing.
But that was March. This is June. And this time, clearly, the west coast agrees with the team. After traveling to Corvallis, Ore. on Wednesday for their NCAA regional, Michigan (43-18) trounced No. 22 Creighton, 6-0, in their opening game Friday. Fresh off of that win, the Wolverines’ bats stayed hot as they came from behind to defeat Cincinnati, 10-4, on Saturday.
Michigan got on the board first, as sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu crushed a pitch on a 2-0 count to give the Wolverines an early lead. After that, though, the Wolverines’ bats lost their spark, combining for three hits and no runs over the next four innings. The Bearcats tied the game with an unearned run in the bottom of the second, but other than that, the teams were locked in a pitchers’ duel as sophomore left-hander Jeff Criswell faced off against Cincinnati’s right-hander Nick Murray.
It was in the bottom of the fifth, though, that the Bearcats’ offense came alive. After allowing a leadoff single to second baseman Jace Mercer, Criswell walked right fielder A.J. Bumpass and center fielder Jeremy Johnson to load the bases with two outs before Cincinnati third baseman Eric Santiago launched a three-RBI double left of center field to put the Bearcats up, 4-1.
Michigan was quick to respond. Senior second baseman Ako Thomas reached on a leadoff single of his own and advanced to second on a wild pitch before first baseman Jimmy Kerr, another senior, launched the second pitch he saw over the right field fence, bringing the score to 4-3. That was all Cincinnati head coach Scott Googins needed to see to sit his starter, and after senior third baseman Blake Nelson and junior right fielder Christian Bullock took back-to-back walks from Bearcat reliever Nick Murray, Googins went back to the bullpen.
It didn’t do him much good. Redshirt senior left fielder Miles Lewis took a four-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs, and the Wolverines tied the game at 4 on a sacrifice fly from sophomore catcher Joe Donovan. Freshman shortstop Riley Bertram loaded the bases in his first collegiate start on a bunt single that moved Lewis to second and Bullock to third, and after Nwogu struck out looking, the Wolverines took the lead as sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin took another four-pitch walk to bring in the go-ahead run.
And Michigan didn’t look back. Lewis scored as Thomas – the first batter of the inning – was hit by a pitch, putting the Wolverines up 6-4 before Kerr lined out to end the inning.
They built their momentum in the top of the eighth. Bertram singled to center field and advanced to second on a Nwogu groundout before scoring on an RBI single from Thomas. Kerr then took a four-pitch walk to move Thomas to second before they both scored on a Cincinnati error. Nelson then scored on an RBI single from Bullock to bring the score to what would be its final resting place at 10-4 favoring the Wolverines.
Right-handed freshman closer Willie Weiss came on for Michigan with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and struck out the side in the ninth to end the ballgame in what was one of his strongest outings this season.