Michigan baseball team coach Erik Bakich speaks frequently about treating each contest as a “one-game series.”
By his standard, the 18th-ranked Wolverines (8-3 Big Ten, 28-10 overall) won their first two “series” at Iowa, 8-4 and 12-9, respectively, and dropped their final one, 8-3. The series was a mirror-image of last year’s set, where the Hawkeyes took two of three games from Michigan in Ann Arbor.
“We don’t talk about the weekend in terms of three game series,” Bakich said. “We look at each game as a one game series. If you ask me to reflect back on the week it was a positive week, but everyone is disappointed that we lost the one-game series (Sunday).”
In Friday’s contest, the Wolverines found their first offensive success in the top of the third inning when freshman second baseman Ako Thomas led off with a single to left-center field. Sophomore third baseman Jake Bivens followed up with an infield single, and senior left fielder Matt Ramsay reached on an error to load the bases.
That brought junior designated hitter Carmen Benedetti up to bat. Though he grounded out, Michigan was still able to score to take an early 1-0 lead. Senior catcher Harrison Wenson singled on the next at-bat to extend the lead to two and a fielder’s choice two batters later put Michigan ahead by three.
The Wolverines scored two more times in the fourth frame on a two-out RBI single by Ramsay and an RBI single by freshman right fielder Jonathan Engelmann to widen the gap to five.
But Iowa (7-8 Big Ten, 18-19 overall) would not go down easily as it put up four runs of its own in the sixth to pull within one of Michigan, who committed two costly errors in the inning.
With the score 6-4 in favor of Michigan, sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer came to the plate with senior center fielder Cody Bruder on first base. Lugbauer launched the first pitch he saw over the right-field wall for his fourth home run of the season, giving the Wolverines some breathing room.
Although Lugbauer’s homer was one of just 16 Michigan has hit all season — 12th highest in the Big Ten — Bakich insisted that nothing changed before the Iowa series.
“I don’t think there was anything different this week in terms of the balls that were driven or the approach. The only thing that was different was the result, and that was the byproduct of the field that we were playing at. The ball carried a little bit more.”
The Wolverines’ got out to an even faster start Saturday.
Once again, Michigan got its engine revved up in the third inning when Benedetti hit a single with the bases loaded to give the Wolverines a 1-0 edge. Two batters later, Bruder opened the floodgates further with a bases-clearing double to expand Michigan’s advantage to four.
The Wolverines continued to pile on in the fifth when Wenson hit a bases-loaded, two-RBI double and senior designated hitter Domenic Jamett walked in a run, extending the lead to seven.
After the Hawkeyes responded with a run in the bottom of the fifth, Michigan scored three more times in the sixth, thanks to an RBI single by Bruder and a two-run single by Lugbauer.
Bruder’s hits Saturday gave him a 17-game hit streak, which he extended to 18 with a single Sunday.
“(Bruder) is just locked in pitch-to-pitch,” Bakich said. “He doesn’t take any at-bats off and he competes as hard as he can every pitch, every at-bat, every inning.”
Although Iowa outfielder Luke Farley blasted a three-run homer in the sixth to make the score 10-4, the Wolverines responded in the top of the seventh with a solo shot by Ramsay and again in the eighth with an RBI triple by junior shortstop Michael Brdar. It appeared that Michigan had safely secured the game.
But the Hawkeyes had other ideas.
Iowa first baseman Tyler Peyton hit a two-run home run and catcher Jimmy Frankos hit an RBI single to pull the Hawkeyes within five.
Yet it was the bottom of the ninth inning where things momentarily got tense for the Wolverines as freshman right-hander Will Tribucher loaded up the bases with two outs. That prompted Bakich to call in sophomore right-hander Bryan Pall to close the game.
While Pall allowed a double that scored two of the runners, he struck out the last batter to end the inning and give Michigan a hard-earned victory.
“I thought the guys swung the bats really well,” Bakich said. “I thought we did a nice job of — especially in the middle innings — of scoring in multiple frames, putting up multiple runs in multiple innings, and really extending a lead to a point where the comeback (Iowa) made at the end proved to be too little, too late.”
As for Sunday’s game, despite the final score, it was the Wolverines who scored first.
With two outs and a runner on third, Jamett came to the plate and smacked the first pitch over the left field wall. Thomas and Bivens attempted to give Michigan further insurance as they each singled. But they could not reach home plate as Ramsay grounded out to end the inning.
“He’s one of our toughest competitors,” Bakich said of Jamett. “He’s a captain, he’s a senior, he’s been in the program for five years. He knows how valuable the opportunities are when they present themselves, so he makes the most of them.”
Iowa dominated the scoring from there, as the Hawkeyes put up one run in the third, one in the fourth, three in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh, taking an 8-2 advantage in the process.
Jamett trimmed the deficit to five in the top of the ninth with an RBI single, but it was far too little too late at that point as the Wolverines failed to further capitalize in the frame.
Following the three-game set with the Hawkeyes, Michigan will take a four-day break from game action before taking on No. 23 Michigan State (8-4 Big Ten, 27-10 overall).
Although the Wolverines sit one-half game ahead of the Spartans for second-place in the Big Ten standings, Bakich insists that he and his team don’t follow the out-of-town scores much.
“I don’t follow the standings and all of that stuff,” Bakich said. “Any time you get caught up with what someone else is doing, it’s outside of your circle of control. So there’s really no need to follow it closely other than just as a casual observer just seeing what’s going on in college baseball.”