In the grand scheme of things, the games this past weekend meant nothing.

Good thing nobody told that to the Michigan baseball players — who got a rare chance to celebrate on the field, following 5-4 walk-off win in 11 innings over Penn State on Friday.

The win was sandwiched between two more frustrating 1-0 and 11-8 losses to conclude the Wolverines’ disappointing season.

Saturday was Senior Day for Michigan’s lone departing seniors, fifth-year senior pitcher Matt Gerbe and injured fifth-year senior captain Anthony Toth. The Wolverines (7-16 Big Ten, 17-37 overall) honored Gerbe by allowing him to start just his third career game.

And the righty — who has battled injuries for much of his career — didn’t disappoint early on.

Through four innings, Gerbe allowed no runs and just one hit, striking out a career-high five.

The Nittany Lions (12-12, 32-30) helped the Wolverines draw first blood by committing two errors in the second inning to put runners on second and third. Penn State had five errors on Saturday and 10 in the series.

Wolverine freshman first baseman Brett Winger capitalized, singling in both runners to give Michigan the 2-0 lead.

But in the fifth, Gerbe’s day unraveled. After allowing two singles and a walk, center fielder Sean Deegan — the conference’s leader in homers and slugging percentage — tied the game with a two-run double, ending Gerbe’s day.

Junior pitcher Kevin Vangheluwe came on in relief, but faced just three batters. He allowed a run-scoring sac-fly, a two-run homer and a single before being pulled.

By the time freshman hurler Alex Lakatos finally ended the inning, the Nittany Lions had taken a 6-2 lead. They took a 9-2 lead into the eighth, when the Wolverines made things interesting.

With the bases loaded, freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill’s grounder to second was thrown away, allowing two Michigan runners to score. The Wolverines added three more runs off sophomore center fielder Patrick Biondi’s single and two ensuing fielder’s choices.

Freshman catcher Cole Martin — representing the go-ahead run with the score 9-7 — struck out, stranding two men on base. The Wolverines left 13 men on base in the game.

After the Nittany Lions made it 11-7 in the top of the ninth, Michigan got a run back off an O’Neill single. Junior left fielder Coley Crank came up with two on and two outs, representing the tying run. But Crank — the Wolverines’ most productive and dangerous hitter — struck out, ending Michigan’s season.

“It was an exciting game,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “I guess what I’m very pleased with is that, despite the difficult season we had, the guys never did quit. We were down by a lot of runs and we fought back and had a chance to be in the game, had a chance to win. So for me, it’s that attitude to never quit that’s a good trait for building a team.”

On Friday, the Wolverines took the early lead when O’Neill singled, later stole third and scored off a Crank single.

It was part of a big day for O’Neill. The freshman stole two bases to break Michigan’s record for stolen bases by a freshman. The leadoff man went 4-for-6 in the game, with three runs. He finished the weekend going 7-for-16.

After Penn State took the 2-1 lead in the fifth, the Wolverines responded in the bottom-half of the inning. Winger’s bases-loaded single scored two, giving Michigan the lead back.

Michigan carried the lead into the eighth, thanks to stifling pitching from redshirt sophomore Matt Broder.

Broder opened the eighth with a walk to end his day at 7.0 innings of five-hit, five-strikeout ball.

Redshirt sophomore pitcher Tyler Mills came on to pitch after freshman hurler Jake Engels loaded the bases, and gave up two runs on a walk and wild pitch to tie the game. Mills escaped major damage by inducing a bases-loaded groundout to keep the Wolverines in the game.

In the eleventh, O’Neill singled, Biondi reached on a Penn State throwing error and Crank was walked to load the bases.

Junior third baseman John Lorenz sent a 2-1 pitch over the second baseman’s head into right to end the game, igniting a celebratory mob in the infield around Lorenz.

“To come from behind and see the kids celebrate on the field — we’ve had so many of those throughout the years that I’ve been here and in the history of our program — but to have a moment like that in the difficult season, I was really happy for the guys,” Maloney said.

On Thursday, the Wolverines wasted a gem from junior pitcher Brandon Sinnery. The righty went eight innings, allowing just one run off four hits, while striking out seven, but earned the loss as Michigan’s bats were muted all night.

Now that the letdown season is over, Maloney is excited to start over.

“I’m excited to start at 0-0 again, to be honest, and I’m excited to try and write a great story for next year,” Maloney said. “We’re moving forward, we’re going to put this behind us and we’re going to come back hungry to flip this season.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.