Redshirt sophomore left-hander Steven Hajjar stood on the mound in a tough position. It was the top of the third inning of the first game with the score tied, 1-1, and Purdue had the bases loaded without a single out or strike. After consulting with pitching coach Steve Merriman, Hajjar decided to stay in and pull his team out of the hole in which they’d found themselves.
One by one, he retired each of the Boilermakers’ next three batters, letting out an emphatic roar as he approached Michigan’s bullpen. After that inning, the Wolverines would go on to win the game with eight unanswered runs and a dominant fielding performance.
Hajjar’s heroics were indicative of Michigan’s pitching and defense for the rest of this series, with Michigan holding Purdue without a run for 22 straight innings until the Boilermakers scored in the seventh inning of the third game.
In the first game, Hajjar was relieved after the sixth inning by junior right-hander Will Proctor, redshirt junior right-hander Isaiah Paige and freshman left-hander Logan Wood, each of whom played an inning and gave up just a combined two hits through the rest of the game.
By preventing Purdue from reaching the plate for the rest of the game, Michigan asserted its command on both sides of the ball from the get-go, demoralizing its opponent for the rest of the series.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich credits Hajjar’s third inning for leading them to the win.
“The probability of scoring multiple runs (in that situation) is extremely high,” Bakich said. “So for (Hajjar) to get a strikeout then a pop-up and then a strikeout was just a momentum-shifting moment in the game that helped our team capitalize so that we could score some runs and separate the game.”
No game exemplified Michigan’s mental hold on the Boilermakers more than the third game, with redshirt junior left-hander Ben Dragani starting on the mound. Dragani threw an impressive 47 strikes and five strikeouts on his own, equaling Hajjar’s total from game one and all totals from game two.
After junior right-hander Keaton Carattini relieved Dragani after the fifth inning, Michigan continued to protect the plate and position their offense for runs, including a grand slam by sophomore catcher/infielder Jimmy Obertop. Carattini was relieved by senior left-hander Angelo Smith, who gave up a run in each of the seventh and ninth innings but closed out a comfortable 9-2 Wolverine win.
By the final game of the series, Michigan completed its sweep of Purdue with an 11-6 win. Senior right-hander Blake Beers started for the Wolverines, retiring the Boilermakers in each of the first and second innings.
Michigan ran into trouble at the top of the third inning when a string of errors led to three Purdue runs, giving the Boilermakers the lead. Determined not to get swept, Purdue put together quality at-bats and trailed by just one run by the top of the sixth inning.
That’s when graduate right-hander Joe Pace stepped onto the mound, focused on sending the Boilermakers home without a win. After having given up three runs in the fifth inning, Pace threw five strikeouts without giving up any runs, allowing his team to generate four unanswered scores to win the game.
To Pace, coaching and defense were what allowed him to close out the sweep.
“We have seven guys behind me that are great defenders,” Pace said. “It allows all of us on the pitching staff to pitch with the most confidence, so we trust our guys and it allows us to get on the mound and let it eat.”
Even with up and down offensive play for Michigan, the Wolverines’ depth on the mound allowed them to control the tempo of the series and will prove to be the key to their continued success at the top of the Big Ten.
“We do have unique depth at the starting pitcher position,” Bakich said. “That’s part of our strength too is when guys are called upon to perform in different roles they execute at that very well whether it’s starting, relieving, high leverage, margin or whatever.
“The thing we’ve got consistency in is a lot of teammates who care more about the team’s success than their individual stats. … That consistency is what’s going to be the reason that we’ve had success this far and the number one reason why we will continue to have success in the future.”
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