Sophomore infielder Jimmy Obertop called time and stepped out of the batter’s box, mentally resetting before the pitch. The bench was screaming as he stepped in, with momentum continuing to build as it had been for the last half-inning. The pitch came in; Obertop swung and deposited the ball over the right-field fence for a two-run, walk-off homer to win the game for Michigan.
And just like that, the Michigan baseball team (9-2 Big Ten) beat Michigan State (5-6), 8-7, scoring eight runs in the bottom of the ninth as it came back in stunning fashion after trailing all afternoon.
“We were just trying to pass it onto the next guy, just getting good quality at-bats in there,” Obertop said. “I was just taking a couple deep breaths, just trying to focus on just getting a barrel to the ball.”
Sophomore left-hander Jacob Denner got the start for Michigan and worked five innings. But he was undone by four two-out runs as the Spartans capitalized on every chance they got. Michigan State went an astonishing 12-for-21 and scored all of its runs with two outs, as the Wolverines couldn’t finish innings. The Spartans were also ruthlessly efficient with runners on base throughout the game, finishing 9-for-22.
Michigan showcased its impressive defense throughout, making several highlight-reel plays to keep Michigan State in check. In the third inning, a flare down the line into shallow left looked destined to drop in and threaten the Wolverines with a runner on base. But fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems came flying in out of nowhere, making a sliding catch as he laid out and slid up against the wall, robbing a hit from the Spartans.
In the fourth inning, a deep drive into left-center field looked to be trouble, but fifth-year outfielder Christan Bullock made a brilliant leaping grab, hanging onto the ball even as he collided into the wall at full speed.
“Those guys make web gems all the time in training,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We try to train at or above game speed all the time, and so it enables the players when those opportunities come to be able to execute. Those were to highlight-reel caliber catches, just awesome plays.”
The Wolverines’ bats were stifled for most of the game, as Michigan recorded just three hits through the first eight innings and failed to score. But trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the ninth, when all seemed lost, the Wolverines finally responded. Obertop led the inning off with a single, and fifth-year infielder Christian Molfetta followed that up with a double.
Sems then singled through the left side, and sophomore infielder Jake Marti launched a double into right field, scoring Obertop and Molfetta. After an out, sophomore outfielder Clark Elliott fought off a two-strike pitch to the left side and reached on an infield single, sending Sems, Marti and Elliott across home plate. But after a second out was recorded, the Wolverines were down to their last out.
Sophomore outfielder Tito Flores came through in the clutch to keep the hopes alive, clearing the bases with a double and setting the stage for Obertop’s dramatic game-winning homer. And Obertop made no mistake as he fought back from an 0-2 count, squaring up on the 1-2 delivery and sending it sailing out to cap the wild comeback and lift Michigan to a dramatic comeback victory.
“We’ve had big innings a number of times this year, so I knew we were certainly capable, down seven to nothing going into the ninth inning,” Bakich said. “What happened in the ninth, I don’t even know if I could put that into words to accurately describe the feeling.”
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