After getting swept by Maryland, the Wolverines needed a win to keep their season alive.
And in the first inning on Tuesday night, the Michigan bats displayed their fight from the start.
Despite scoring first in each of its last three games, Michigan ended up losing all of those games by a large margin. Against Michigan State, the Spartans were the team to strike first — and they did so in a big way.
In the top of the first inning, senior left-hander Jack White started for the Wolverines for the first time this season.
“We got a guy out there in Jack White who’s just battling for us,” senior center fielder Joe Stewart said. “He is coming back from an injury so just to see him on the mound is awesome. We didn’t know if he was even going to be able to pitch this year so he’s gonna take his lumps.”
White was put in an uncomfortable position early, giving up a leadoff triple to start the inning. This sparked a rally by the Spartans that included an RBI single, a walk, hit by pitch, wild pitch and another triple that turned into a little league home run after an error by senior shortstop Riley Bertram.
Before they had a chance to swing the bat, the Wolverines found themselves down 4-0.
It appeared like the game was headed towards the same outcome Michigan endured this past weekend. Against the Terrapins, all of Maryland’s damage was confined to. three innings or fewer. In order to prevent another blowout, the Wolverines needed to offset Michigan State’s push.
In response, in the bottom of the first, Michigan did more than negate the Spartans’ runs — it scored nine.
After a walk by Stewart to get the Wolverines started, the rest of the Michigan bats followed suit.
An RBI double by grad transfer Matt Frey got Michigan on the board, and the Wolverines continued the scoring behind three RBI doubles and three RBI singles to produce nine runs in the first inning. This was a very different response from what they have done throughout this season.
“We’ve played from a lot of deficits this year and come back from a lot of them,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We flipped the scoreboard and we knew we’d come back. I don’t know if I could sit here and tell you that I thought we would respond with 13 quality at-bats in a row and a nine spot, but that was one of the coolest things that happened in the game.”
The Wolverines’ first-inning success partly came from the hustle they showed on the base path.
Junior second baseman Ted Burton singled to score two and advanced to second on a fielding error that positioned him to score on the next pitch. Following that, Stewart hit a soft line drive into center field, but with his speed and the Michigan State outfielder’s carelessness, he was able to hustle to second base.
“We’ve had a roller coaster of a season but we still play hard,” Bakich said. “We’re not going to stop playing hard and that’s just embedded in our foundation. All of our teams (in the past) have played hard and all of our teams hustle and this one does too. I’m proud of the way they fought.”
Michigan may not have been able to score many runs after the first, but it proved its ability to fight back. While this game did not count against Big Ten standings, it was a necessary win for Bakich and the Wolverines after being swept by the second place Terrapins and as they prepare to play first-place Rutgers this coming weekend.
By playing from behind early, Michigan was able to test its offensive power against a conference rival — and in that test, it succeeded.
This hustle and underdog mentality could pay dividends going forward as every game from here on out is a must-win.