In the top of the tenth inning Sunday senior first baseman Mike Dufek launched his sixth home run of the season out of Ray Fisher Stadium. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Dufek’s walk-off homer tallied the final run in Michigan’s monumental 15-14 comeback victory over Northwestern, which saw 15 unanswered runs for the Wolverines.
The game started off like a breeze for the Wildcats, as the Wolverines’ pitchers walked in the first four runs of the game in the top of the second inning. Northwestern’s third baseman Chris Lashmet eventually took advantage of the bases-loaded situation, knocking a grand slam out of the park.
The Wolverines were quickly down by eight runs, and things looked grim. Despite cycling through two pitchers by the third inning, Northwestern still managed to extend its lead to 14 with a six-run rally in the top of the third inning.
The initial trio of Michigan pitchers — sophomore right-hander Brandon Sinnery, senior lefty Eric Katzman and redshirt freshman lefty Matt Broder — only lasted a combined four innings and allowed 14 runs on 15 hits.
But the Wolverines clawed back into the game, scoring often from the third inning on.
Down 14-12 in the bottom of the ninth, Michigan was down to its last out. Junior leftfielder Ryan LaMarre had just sent a long ball to center field, falling just short of a home run. But senior catcher Chris Berset came up big, keeping the Wolverines alive by launching a home run over the centerfield fence and sending the game to extra innings.
Then came Dufek’s game-winner.
“He threw me a changeup first pitch,” Dufek said. “I took a great big swing, I swung through it actually. I was thinking he might come back with it again, so I moved up in the box so I could get it before it really broke down. He did it again and I guessed right. I got a pretty good piece of it. I knew it was gone right after the bat. It was great.”
Going into this weekend’s series, the Wolverines were in a four-way tie for first in the Big Ten with Northwestern, Purdue and Minnesota. And at the start of the weekend, Michigan showed it was worthy of its lofty spot.
On Friday, LaMarre led the Wolverines offensively to a 4-3 win with two hits, two runs and two RBI — one of which brought in freshman centerfielder Patrick Biondi in the bottom of the seventh inning to put Michigan up by the deciding run.
On Saturday, 10 runs on 18 Wildcat hits marred Michigan’s 10-8 loss — and its chance for another huge comeback win. Going into the sixth inning, the Wolverines were down 7-2. After Toth began the inning by popping out to first base, LaMarre launched his fourth home run of the season.
Berset and sophomore designated hitter Coley Crank followed suit to mark the season’s first back-to-back-to-back home runs. The Wolverines’ hot hitting continued, as seven straight hitters reached base. The six-run rally brought Michigan out of the hole and into the lead.
But the eighth inning proved to be trouble for the Wolverines. Northwestern had a comeback of its own, scoring three runs on four consecutive hits off junior right-hander Tyler Burgoon. Michigan had a chance to answer with the bases loaded for Crank, but he struck out to end the threat.
Although the Wolverines were able to take just one of their two comeback attempts on the weekend, they showed they have the necessary heart to win a conference crown.
“This is one you’ll never forget for the rest of your life,” Maloney said. “Even though it didn’t win a championship, it’s (amazing) just to win a game when you are down 14 to nothing. We will go back to the drawing board and keep working, but what a victory it was for today.”