It’s no surprise that after playing high-intensity games on back-to-back days, the pitching would hit a wall at some point.
And on Sunday, they reached that fate.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich took a gamble, using all three of his starters in the first game of the NCAA Regional against Oregon. He then used two of those same pitchers in the Wolverines’ first matchup against Louisville on Saturday in junior right-hander Cameron Weston and sophomore left-hander Chase Allen which limited the pitching availability on Sunday. And in addition to the lack of starting pitching, he had also utilized juniors right-hander Noah Rennard and left-hander Jacob Denner, Michigan’s two go-to relievers in the previous games.
“You live by the sword and die by the sword when you throw your weekend starters in the (earlier) games,” Bakich said. “(Today), we were left with our margin pitchers and we were hoping for some outlier performances. We knew it would probably have to be a high-scoring day.”
Going into the game with that mentality, the Wolverines knew they would be down pitchers for their rematch with the Cardinals on Sunday. But, Michigan also went into the game knowing it had a game it could lose since it won both of its first two matchups.
With limited options, the Wolverines opted for graduate left-hander Angelo Smith to open the game.
Smith saw very limited action up to this point in the season, only pitching 13.2 innings in total. Coming into the game, he posted an 11.85 ERA, which made him a big gamble on Bakich’s part.
Unfortunately for Bakich, the gamble did not pay off.
Smith failed to make it out of the first inning. Following two walks and a hit batter, he left the game with the bases loaded and just one out.
“We just didn’t throw strikes early,” Bakich said. “And then when we did, they hit it hard. So with the four spot (they had) in the first inning, three of those runs were on two walks and a hit by pitch. So today was just not our day on the mound. We were behind most of the hitters, a lot of 2-1 counts or three-ball counts, and then when we did (throw strikes), they hit (it hard).”
Bakich replaced Smith with freshman right-hander Avery Goldensoph, hoping to limit the damage that Smith left him with.
To Goldensoph’s dismay, he was unable to do that, giving up a two-run single to Louisville center fielder Levi Usher to get the Cardinals on the board early.
That wasn’t all.
The damage kept coming and when Michigan finally did escape, it was left with a four-run deficit before any Wolverine came up to bat.
“It spiraled today,” Bakich said. “It’s not a good feeling when you get down … but, with the pitching plan that we had today, we knew each guy was going to try to get three to six outs and it was most likely going to be a high scoring affair.”
Despite the four runs that Louisville plated while Goldensoph was on the mound, Bakich decided to keep him in the game to start the second.
This, however, proved to be a poor decision as Goldensoph gave up a two-run home run to the Cardinals’ third baseman Ben Metzinger.
In all, the 6-0 hole was too steep to come back from — and as the game continued, the hole created by Michigan’s bullpen only grew bigger.
It’s easy to chalk this game up to just one loss following the strong performances of the pitching staff in the previous two games. By going all out and positioning themselves to be able to take this loss, Bakich understood that his top pitchers needed rest, even if that meant a loss against the Cardinals in a non-elimination setting.
With a day of rest behind them, the Wolverines’ starters can now focus on tomorrow’s contest with a trip to College Station in Texas next weekend on the line.
“We’ve got all of our guys who’ve thrown in the first two games available for us tomorrow,” Bakich said.
And now that Michigan faces elimination, their availability will make the difference.