As the Michigan baseball team prepared to send its final batters to the plate, it needed nothing short of a miracle.
And the Wolverines got it.
Facing a seven-run deficit and down to its last licks, the Michigan baseball team had its back to the wall against rival Michigan State. But when sophomore designated hitter Jimmy Obertop stepped into the batter’s box to begin the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday, he and the rest of the Wolverines weren’t feeling defeated.
They’ve excelled at producing exactly the kind of big inning that was needed. A combination of veteran hitters, a lineup constructed to protect its players and an emphasis on the importance of stringing quality at-bats together are responsible for the many crooked numbers, according to assistant coach Nick Schnabel.
So as Michigan entered its eleventh hour, despite having been thoroughly outplayed for most of the game, it remained optimistic about the chance of a comeback.
“(Michigan) coach (Erik) Bakich talked to the whole team before the eighth inning, when we were about to hit,” Obertop said. “We thought it was going to come then.”
Despite the pep talk, the Wolverines could only manage one runner in the eighth. Senior left-hander Angelo Smith blanked the Spartans in the top of the ninth. Obertop singled through the left side to begin the bottom of the ninth. Fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta, fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems and sophomore first baseman Jake Marti all followed with hits.
“We were patient and just tried to pass it along, get the next guy up every time,” Obertop said. “And it worked.”
Senior Logan Pollack pinch-hit for junior second baseman Riley Bertram and earned a four-pitch walk, loading the bases. Only then did the Spartans, who kept their starter on a three-hit leash, decide to make a pitching change.
After a strikeout, infield single and popout, it looked like Jordan Beatson would be able to cut Michigan’s rally short. But the Michigan State right-hander’s luck ran out when he faced sophomore left fielder Tito Flores.
Flores’s batting line to that point — 1-4 with a single — was relatively pedestrian by his standards, but he’d seen the ball well all night, consistently pulling it hard down the third-base line. He drove a bases-clearing double into left-center field, reducing the deficit to one.
Beatson quickly got ahead in the count against Obertop, the next hitter. The Wolverines in the dugout cheered Obertop on as he spoiled pitch after pitch and frequently called for time, upsetting Beatson’s rhythm.
“It’s so great to have all 42 guys in there, cheering each other on and seeing them pull the rope in the same direction,” Bakich said.
Obertop had already hit two homers that weekend, but his third — an opposite-field blast that Michigan State’s right fielder pursued before looking down, dejectedly, as it cleared the fence — was his favorite.
“This was the best one,” Obertop said. “In a team win over Michigan State, our rival, it’s amazing, it was a lot of fun.”
To Bakich, the comeback is more than a precious conference win or a victory against a rival. It is monumental.
“I don’t even know if I could put that into words, to accurately describe the feeling,” Bakich said. “I can tell you that it is the second coolest thing I’ve personally ever experienced in a Michigan uniform. And it’s a memory that our players, coaches, staff, fans will never forget. I mean, that that kind of thing just doesn’t happen very often. I’ve never been a part of something like that in all my years of playing and coaching.
“It was magic, and I don’t even know how to explain it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.