With one out in the eighth inning against Purdue, the Michigan baseball team’s nightmare season looked to only get worse. The Wolverines, down 5-1, were headed for their 10th loss in their last 11 games. They hadn’t scored more than five runs in a game for nearly a month and were about to get swept by a conference rival.
Michigan would have fallen to 1-5 in the Big Ten, and a couple more bad series would have effectively shut the door on its season.
But then, the Boilermakers opened it back up.
A one-out error by second baseman Eric Charles led to four unearned runs in the eighth inning, allowing Michigan to tie the game 5-5. Each of the runs scored with two outs.
Two innings later, redshirt junior Garrett Stephens deposited Sean Collins’s 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall to put Michigan ahead, 6-5. Freshman right-hander Alex Lakatos let two reach base in the bottom of the 10th inning, but he slithered out of the jam to give the Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 8-21 overall) a much-needed win in West Lafayette.
“For the kids to come back today (after losing Saturday) and make plays like they did and get some big hits, it says a lot about them,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “It would have been easy to fold up shop and they didn’t. That was an awesome win for us.”
Though the offense finally came through to give the Wolverines a chance to win, the defense kept it from losing the game.
With the game tied, 5-5, in the bottom of the ninth inning and a man on first base with one out, sophomore center fielder Patrick Biondi made a spectacular running catch on the warning track before throwing to first to double up the Purdue third baseman Cameron Perkins. Had the ball dropped, Perkins would have likely come around to score the game-winning run.
“Off the bat, I thought it was hit pretty well,” Biondi said. “I opened up to my glove side and the wind was blowing straight toward left so I knew it was going to turn back over. And I turned back and whipped my head around at the last second and I was able to make the catch. The ball carried a lot further than I thought.”
Added Maloney: “It was truly one of the greatest catches I’ve seen.”
And in the 10th inning, Purdue put runners on second and third base with one out. Stephens came home with Boilermaker shortstop David Miller’s ground ball to gun down the potential tying run.
After Purdue jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second inning, junior pitcher Brandon Sinnery kept the Wolverines in the game by throwing 5.1 innings of scoreless relief. Lakatos then tossed 3.2 more scoreless innings to pick up the win.
Maloney said that Sinnery would likely take Mills’s place in the conference rotation after Mills was shelled for five runs in an inning of work.
The victory was especially crucial considering that the Wolverines let Saturday’s game get away. Behind a strong performance from redshirt sophomore Bobby Brosnahan, Michigan took a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning. But the left-hander loaded the bases in the seventh and Lakatos could not limit the damage when he entered in relief. Purdue (3-3, 10-11) scored four runs in the frame and kept Michigan hitless the rest of the way to get the 4-2 victory.
On Friday, the Boilermakers pitching held Michigan to five hits in an 8-0 rout.
But in a season in which Michigan has been hard pressed to find much reason for optimism, Sunday’s win could make a big impact on team morale.
“It’s huge,” Biondi said. “It would have been a really long bus ride home if we got swept. But everyone’s pretty excited that we were able to get that win and it makes it a good bus ride home.”
Michigan hopes to ride this high into Ray Fisher Stadium as it takes on Bowling Green and Toledo during the week before hosting Illinois this weekend.
“It shows a lot that we got down and we were able to hang in there and come back in the end,” Biondi said. “That shows what kind of guys we have on the team and hopefully this will carry over and give us some momentum next week.”