A ninth inning rally allowed Michigan to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of Illinois. A disappointing series ended with an incredible 4-3 victory for the Michigan baseball team (4-6 Big Ten, 14-15 overall).
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a man in scoring position, sophomore outfielder Chris Burhans pinch hit for sophomore Matt Butler. It was a moment that many young athletes dream of – a chance to win the game for their team.
Illinois’ dominant closer, Dave Mazurek, forced the count to 0-2. With a tough task in front of him, Burhans hit a grounder to Illinois shortstop Eric Eymann. Senior outfielder Gino Lollio shielded Eymann from seeing the ball and forced him to commit an error.
“It wasn’t as much as I was trying to screen him,” Lollio said. “The ball was going there, and if I get hit by the ball the game is over. For any infielder, it’s hard enough to make a play to end the game. I just shocked him, and you didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Lollio continued to run hard through third base en route to home plate. He safely slid into home to beat the throw from the outfield. The crowd went ballistic as Michigan won an enormous game against the Illini.
“I was thinking to do anything you can to possibly score and win the game,” Lollio said. “I reacted right off the bat. Actually what happened was that the ball and me met, and I slowed down to let it go by. Then I just took off and the coach was yelling to me that I got to go. Thankfully we pulled it out.”
Michigan played Illinois this weekend in its third Big Ten series of the season. Illinois (6-6, 18-11) won the first three games of the weekend between the two. But yesterday’s game was a different story.
Michigan entered The Fish down three games and lacking any momentum. However, the final game was a success for the Wolverines.
“We made plays, which we haven’t been doing of late,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “We found a way to get it done. It’s hard because when a team wins with three games in a row, all of the momentum is theirs. Our guys never folded. They kept at it, they kept believing, and they found a way to get this one done. This was a very big win for us right now.”
Although Michigan’s pitchers continue to have inconsistent outings, sophomore pitcher Drew Taylor pitched a brilliant game.
“What a lift that gave us,” Maloney said. “This was a game where we really needed to find a way to win, and we needed a pitcher to go out there and really shut them down. Drew did just that. He was marvelous.”
Taylor pitched his first complete game of the year by striking out five batters in nine innings and pitching the strongest late-inning performance for the Wolverines this season.
“He pitched 119 pitches, which not many of my guys throw that much,” Maloney said. “He has been well rested and he hasn’t done much of late. So it wasn’t a problem especially on a nice hot day like today.”
Taylor scattered 11 hits and allowed the first batter on base in six of the nine innings of the game. Despite the constant pressure by Illinois, Taylor only allowed three runs and gave the Wolverines a chance for victory at the end of the game.
“I feel excited to pitch a complete game,” Taylor said. “I had one game where I went 8.1 innings against Bethune-Cookman a while ago. It’s great to go out there and prove again to the coach that I can do the job and go all nine.”
With this important victory under Michigan’s belt, the Wolverines avoided being even further behind in the Big Ten standings.
“If we lost we would have been 3-7 (in the Big Ten) and it takes about .500 to get into the tournament,” Maloney said. “Getting in the tournament is certainly one of the goals for our team. That’s a big deal for us. Actually, that victory only put us about a game behind (Illinois). Otherwise, we would have been three behind.”
Michigan could have possibly been three games under .500 in the Big Ten. But with the victory yesterday, the Wolverines are only two games under .500 and closing the gap en route to the playoffs.
Michigan will now seek redemption against Oakland on Wednesday at The Fish. Michigan lost to Oakland 17-3 last year at home.