Sophomore infielder Clark Elliott stepped into the batters’ box, the bases loaded. Michigan suffered a loss in its home opener the day before due to poor offense, so now, in the first inning, Elliott was determined to give his team an early lead.
After Illinois right-hander Riley Gowens threw the pitch, Elliott launched the ball beyond the right-field fence for the grand slam. As he rounded the bases, Elliott stomped on the home plate and greeted the Wolverine bullpen with high-fives. Elliott’s play solidified Michigan’s resolve from the get-go and led to impressive play from the Wolverines on both sides of the ball on the way to an 8-1 win.
“The identity of the team will be revealed as the season goes,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “The one thing we do well is bring a consistent, positive attitude. You don’t have too many peaks and valleys from a mentality standpoint.”
As it has all season, Michigan’s pitching and defense led the way early in the game. Sophomore pitcher Cameron Weston started for the Wolverines, throwing four strikeouts by the third inning and not allowing a single Illini score until the fourth inning.
“The biggest difference (in this game) was the pitching,” Bakich said. “We were very stingy from a pitching standpoint.”
Weston continued on the mound through the eighth inning and accumulated five strikeouts on his own, highlighting the Wolverines’ depth on the mound.
“(Weston) had quick innings, used his defense to get a couple of double plays, keep his pitch count under 100 and give us eight innings strong,” Bakich said. “We are the benefactors of having an older lineup with a lot of talented kids. We’ve got guys on the bench that would be starting on most teams. So to not only have the depth on the lineup but depth on the bench, you see guys capable of coming through on any given day.”
Other than a fielding error in the sixth inning, Michigan’s defense kept Illinois from scoring for the rest of the game.
After the early barrage, the Wolverines wouldn’t score again until the sixth inning. Knowing his team needed rejuvenation to win the game, Elliott crushed another homer into right field, which set up an RBI double by fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems to put Michigan up 7-1.
Following a run by Michigan on a wild pitch, the Wolverines closed out the game after redshirt junior right-hander Isaiah Paige relieved Weston.
Michigan’s pitching and defense set the tone early and its offense fed off that momentum, particularly sparked by Elliott.
Elliott added: “When they’re up there showing we have total confidence as a defense, seeing them have confidence just bleeds through the rest of the team.”