IOWA CITY – As Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney trotted back to the dugout at Duane Banks Field, dripping from head to toe with water that had been unsuspectingly dumped over his head, he could finally let out a sigh of relief.
After an entire season of high expectations and equally high pressure to win, the Wolverines called themselves Big Ten champions after winning 3-of-4 games last weekend against Iowa. Michigan clinched its second consecutive regular-season Big Ten title, edging out Minnesota for the top spot.
With the championship, the Wolverines will be awarded championship rings and will host next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” freshman catcher Chris Berset said. “We worked so hard this winter, and to get it now is great. Especially being a freshman this year . I’m just truly blessed to be here.”
Going into the sixth inning of Saturday’s second game, Michigan didn’t seem to have too much to celebrate. The Wolverines were down by a run to Iowa, and things only got worse on the field.
Redshirt sophomore reliever Ben Jenzen’s performance that inning left much to be desired. The Grosse Pointe Park native’ hit two batters with the bases loaded. Those two free runs propelled the Hawkeyes (17-13 Big Ten, 31-21 overall) to a four-run inning that seemingly sealed the fate of the Wolverines.
But during Michigan’s sub-par half inning, the Michigan contingent in the stands suddenly erupted in a celebration unwarranted by the Wolverines’ on-field performance. Junior Nate Recknagel had to wait until the inning was over to find out the cause of the mysterious cheers.
“All of a sudden the (Michigan fans) started cheering, and we were all like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” Recknagel said. “When we got back to the dugout we found out that Minnesota had lost.”
The Golden Gophers came into their weekend series with a chance to overtake Michigan in the conference. But Minnesota dropped the second game of its doubleheader against Indiana, giving Michigan (21-7, 39-14) the outright Big Ten championship.
Although the Wolverines won the Big Ten regular-season title, they all made it clear they aren’t done yet.
Most players and coaches openly stated Michigan still wants to win 40 games, the Big Ten Tournament and a Regional. And some on the team, like Berset, were even more forward about the Wolverines’ long-term aspiration – an appearance in the College World Series.