After an extended offseason, Michigan baseball is back.
In a four-game series in Round Rock, Texas, the Wolverines (3-1 Big Ten) opened up the 2021 season with a strong start, taking three of four from Iowa (1-3).
Michigan took the opener by a score of 4-2 on Saturday, with redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar tossing 6.2 innings, giving up just two runs and racking up eight strikeouts.
“I was very happy with Steve Hajjar, he gave us a quality start,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “Holding down a good opponent, and allowing us to score a couple of runs late in the game.”
Sophomore outfielder Jake Marti helped Michigan open the scoring in the second inning with a two-run double down the right-field line, scoring fifth-year outfielder Christan Bullock and fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems.
Iowa then tied the game at two in the seventh inning. But the Wolverines responded in the eighth, with fifth-year catcher Christian Molfetta singling in sophomore infielder Tito Flores after Flores doubled. Michigan then tacked on an insurance run in the ninth as Sems doubled into the left-field gap to plate Flores, who reached on another double. Junior right-hander Willie Weiss picked up the win with 2.1 scoreless innings in relief to close the game.
Iowa took the first of two games, 8-3, on Sunday. Sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston allowed four runs over 4.1 innings of work, while the Wolverines scored all three of their runs in the fourth. Junior infielder Riley Bertram drove in a run with a bases-loaded single. Another run scored on a wild pitch, and two batters later, Flores drew a bases-loaded walk to plate another.
But the Wolverines failed to capitalize on several of their opportunities. Despite loading the bases several times, they repeatedly left runners stranded, striking out twice and grounding into a double play.
“We didn’t execute with runners in scoring position,” Bakich said. “We had plenty of scoring opportunities, but just came up empty with the bases loaded, just getting that clutch hit.”
Michigan bounced back with a 7-0 win in the second game of the doubleheader. The Wolverines got out to a big lead early, as Molfetta walked with the bases loaded before fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur clobbered a grand slam into deep left-center. The Wolverines would strike again an inning later, as sophomore catcher/infielder Jimmy Obertop blasted a solo shot to left. Redshirt junior outfielder Danny Zimmerman would score on an error in the sixth as well.
Sophomore left-hander Jacob Denner had a strong showing on the hill for Michigan, allowing just two hits and no runs through five innings. Denner also struck out seven.
In the final game of the weekend, the Wolverines continued to put their offensive struggles behind them, exploding for 11 runs in an 11-4 victory. Mazur maintained his momentum from the night before, roping an RBI single into left to plate Marti to open the scoring in the first. He then launched a three-run homer into deep left in the third inning.
“I felt prepared, and I was happy with my performance,” Marti said. “I felt like we fed off each other’s energy really well all weekend so that was really cool to see.”
After Iowa scored four in the fourth inning to tie the game, Michigan responded with a huge fifth inning. Flores drove in Molfetta with a single before Obertop drew a bases-loaded walk. Sems then plated a pair with his own single, before Bullock dropped down a perfectly executed suicide squeeze to score another. The Wolverines added another on an error in the fifth, before Sems plated Flores with a single in the 9th. Ben Dragani picked up the win after an impressive 3.1 scoreless innings in relief.
Especially with the series being Michigan’s first of the season, it’s tough to determine how its strong performances will translate to the rest of the year. But walking away with three victories in their first four games, the Wolverines have every right to be pleased.
“That’s a team that’s going to be at the top of the standings at the end of the year,” Bakich said of Iowa. “So to get three victories out of four over a team like that that’s a great way to start Big 10 play.”
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