When Northwestern designated hitter Alex Seyferth grounded out to shortstop to mercifully end the Wildcats’ six-run third inning and put them up 14-0, Ray Fisher Stadium was as quiet as it has been all season.
The 1,780 fans in attendance probably thought the game was over.
But the Wolverines didn’t.
Michigan slowly battled back, scoring six times in the third and chipping away at the lead by tallying runs in three of the next five innings until it was 14-12 in the bottom of the ninth. With one man on base, senior catcher and co-captain Chris Berset stepped in and promptly launched his second home run of the day to right field. What was unthinkable hours earlier was now reality: the game was tied.
“It just shows the team we have right now is (all about) grit,” Berset said. “We just gritted it out. We never thought we were out of it, even though we were down 14. Every team thinks you’re done with that (deficit), but we just stayed the course … it feels really, really good.”
The determination was nothing new for the Wolverines — just one day before, the team battled back from a 7-2 deficit to take a one-run lead over the Wildcats, though they eventually lost the game.
This time, they completed the feat. After junior right-hander Matt Miller held Northwestern scoreless in the top of the tenth, senior first baseman and co-captain Mike Dufek led off the home half of the inning by knocking the ball out of the park to finish the 15-14 win.
“(The comeback) showed a lot of intestinal fortitude,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “When you are behind as much as we were the last couple of games and to not quit, that is something that we have instilled. To the kids’ credit, they believe. And we can always use that in our program — that we are never dead.”
Though the Wolverines’ bats were obviously huge in notching 18 hits and 15 runs, a key factor in the comeback was Miller’s performance.
Michigan was running out of pitchers after starter and sophomore right-hander Brandon Sinnery gave up six runs in just over one inning of work. And senior left-hander Eric Katzman, who relived Sinnery, performed just as poorly, lasting just 1.1 innings and also allowing six.
Enter Miller, who is one of the staff’s most talented pitchers but has struggled with consistency all season. The Zionsville, Indiana native came into the game in the fifth inning and pitched the rest of the way, shutting down the Wildcats to the tune of no runs and just two hits. He also struck out seven.
“I went in there just trying to throw everything as best as I could,” Miller said. “I tried to give 100 percent right from the first pitch, and I know it was taxing, but I think it paid off. I felt like if I got into the zone, good things were going to happen and it turned out that way.”
And the mammoth win couldn’t have come on a better day for Dufek, Berset and the rest of the seniors. Sunday doubled as Senior Day at the Fish, as each player was honored before the game.
The two co-captains said that they had never done or experienced anything in their baseball lives quite like what transpired Sunday, let alone in their four years wearing the maize and blue.
And they said it was all possible because despite what the scoreboard showed, they believed in themselves and never stopped fighting.
“That’s where our trust comes in, with our whole team,” Berset said. “It’s not just Mike or my home runs. It’s everyone’s … just trusting your teammates, that’s all you can do. This is just a credit to all the guys and their hard work.”