EVANSTON – After losing the first game of the doubleheader to Illinois (14-15), the Michigan baseball team (20-10) responded to the loss by dominating the Illini and scoring the second-highest number of runs by the team all season.
Rare control issues by Wolverine pitchers and a breeze blowing out to left field helped Illinois to a respectable offensive showing of its own, but the Wolverines outmatched it at the plate en route to an 18-8 win.
In the top of the first, Illinois’ starter Nathan Lavender retired the Wolverines in order. The lefty Lavender’s control and pitch selection made him a tough opponent; he threw breaking balls for strikes in any count and threw inside against righties. Despite Lavender’s tough pitches, Michigan’s offensive approach began to yield success quickly. It scored a run in each of the second and third innings.
The Wolverines broke the game open in the fourth. Sophomore first baseman Tito Flores and senior left fielder Danny Zimmerman led off the inning with back-to-back home runs to left field. Then junior shortstop Riley Bertram walked and took advantage of the Illinois’ catcher’s weak arm to steal second and third on back-to-back pitches.
Fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta, sophomore right fielder Clark Elliott and fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur followed with run-scoring hits. In the process, Illinois removed Lavender in favor of the bullpen.
Michigan put up another crooked number in the fifth, scoring four runs — three off of a bases-clearing double by Molfetta.
Sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston gave up plenty of hard contact in the bottom of the first, allowing one run, but escaped a two-on jam by inducing a double play. He settled down and threw perfect second and third innings, keeping the ball low and on the edges of the strike zone.
“I thought he was good,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.
Weston continued his strong outing in the fourth, but two infield singles gave the Illini some counterplay. Two web gems — a diving catch by Zimmerman and an assist by Mazur — got Michigan out of the jam.
Bakich said he was satisfied with the defensive performance.
Against the Illinois bullpen, the Wolverines scored in bunches in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings, including a home run by fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems and a two-run triple by Zimmerman. Most were scored less glamorously — by stringing quality at-bats together.
The Illini, however, found some success of their own against Michigan relief pitching. They scored five runs on two infield hits and three walks in the fifth against both Weston and redshirt junior right-hander Isaiah Paige. Illinois also scored a run against both graduate right-hander Joe Pace and fifth-year right-hander Will Proctor in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively.
Up by eight runs in the ninth, Bakich sent four pinch hitters to bat and gave freshman left-hander Logan Wood his third-ever appearance. Wood retired the side in order to seal the win.
After losing game one of the doubleheader by a single run, Michigan put on an offensive clinic to take game two.
“Put game one behind (you) and get ready to compete in game two,” Bakich told his players etween games.
That’s exactly what they did, overcoming adversity and proving their championship mentality.