Joe Pace is now in his sixth year at Michigan, and the utility player-turned-right-hander took advantage of the unprecedented extension of eligibility by the NCAA for spring athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is now working on a Master’s degree in Sport Management as he prepares for his super-super senior year.
Pace has stepped between the lines in many roles during his collegiate career, including as a pinch hitter, defensive specialist and strikeout-happy relief pitcher. The Daily breaks down one great performance from each of his three full playing seasons.
Pace, then a redshirt freshman, made his debut in late February of 2017, but he had to wait until April 1 to notch his first hit. Michigan hosted Penn State early in its Big Ten schedule, and recorded a 15-2 victory over the Nittany Lions behind a team effort that saw every starter reach base at least once.
Most of the offensive damage against Penn State had already been done by the time Pace pinch-hit with one on and two out in the eighth, so his plate appearance was low-leverage. The most he could do was pad an 11-run lead.
That’s exactly what he did. Down to the final strike of the inning, Penn State right-hander Tim Scholly, throwing out of the three o’clock arm slot, offered an offspeed pitch over the heart of the plate. Pace parked it in left-center field. At home plate, he was greeted by catcher Brock Keener, who he drove in, and the rest of his teammates.
“(His teammates) see how hard that guy works every single day,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said after the game. “What he puts into it every single day, what a great teammate he is, a positive energy guy every day. For him to have that was fitting, and it was great to see.”
Pace didn’t start a single game in 2018, but he still showed off his glove and arm as a late-game substitute in left field. He finished the season with four putouts and two assists.
One of those assists came late in an 11-0 win against Delaware on March 31, when Blue Hen first baseman Nick Patten singled sharply to left field off then-junior right-hander Jack Bredeson and tried for second. Pace played the ball patiently, letting it bounce three times — once off the wall — before gathering it. His throw sailed past the cutoff man and connected directly with second baseman Jimmy Kerr, who applied the tag. Patten was out by a mile.
The event sent a message — don’t try to take a base on Pace — that fell on deaf ears. Pace assisted on the last out of a win against Northwestern later that season, throwing out another runner who wanted to stretch out a single.
In his first season as a pitcher, Pace didn’t take long to become a productive cog in the Wolverines’ bullpen. On March 30, just two weeks after his pitching debut — an inning of relief with two strikeouts against Manhattan — he struck out the side to complete a 16-2 win against Michigan State.
The ninth inning didn’t start well for Pace, who hung two strikes on Spartan catcher Scott Combs before allowing him to single. Combs later advanced to second on a wild pitch.
And though Pace struck out the next three hitters he saw, it wasn’t light work. He worked deep into every count, averaging over six pitches per plate appearance.
His last batter faced was first baseman Justin Antoncic, one of just five Michigan State players with a hit that game. With the count at 2-2, Pace elicited a swing-and-miss on a pitch to the outer half to put the game in the books.
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