First place Michigan (37-14, 15-5 Big Ten) begins its final series of the regular season Thursday night in Lincoln taking on Nebraska (26-19, 13-8 Big Ten) with a 1.5 game lead on second-place Indiana and a 2.5 game lead on Illinois, Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Wolverines lost ground last weekend going 1-2 against Indiana in their final home series of the year but did win Sunday’s game with a walk-off to avoid the sweep.
This weekend’s series presents a chance for the Wolverines to do something they have not done under Erik Bakich: win the Big Ten regular-season title. One year ago this weekend, the team traveled to West Lafayette with a 15-5 record and a shot at the title before a series against Purdue, but the maize and blue were swept in the three-game set and finished third in the standings.
Suffice to say, a Michigan team that returned a chunk of last year’s roster in contributing roles hopes to write a happier ending for this season. Returning starters Jack Blomgren, Blake Nelson, and Jordan Nwogu are all hitting above .300 and pacing the Wolverines, while incoming transfer Jordan Brewer has been a revelation at the plate. The former Lincoln Trail Community College Statesman leads the conference in batting average (.361) and slugging percentage (.656) Michigan’s team offense leads the Big Ten in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total hits, walks, doubles, stolen bases, and sac flies.
”They (Nwogu and Jesse Franklin at the top of the batting order) are threats to hit home runs, they are threats to get on and steal,” Bakich said after Michigan’s win over Michigan State last week. “For an opposing coach, it’s tough to navigate especially when you’ve got Jordan Brewer right behind them and some threats behind them that are also having very good seasons.”
Michigan was riding a 14 game win-streak before hitting a roadblock against Indiana. The Wolverines are 1-3 in their last four since the streak ended with a 7-4 loss at Kentucky on Tuesday, but the philosophy all year has been to look forward and keep eyes on the prize.
”We experienced some of this last year, and you just gotta keep your head down,” Bakich said regarding being at the top of the Big Ten standings for much of the season.
Michigan is facing Nebraska for the first time since 2016 this weekend. The Wolverines swept the Huskers in that series at Ray Fisher Stadium, but the circumstances this time around are somewhat different. Michigan traveled to Lexington earlier this week, went straight to Lincoln, then after Saturday, will remain in Nebraska with the Big Ten Tournament starting in Omaha on Wednesday. The nearly two-week-long road trip could be more tenable if the Wolverines raise the regular season trophy on Friday or Saturday. According to Bakich, the Wolverines will rely on the veteran presence of the roster, those who experienced the disappointment of last year’s regular season-ending sweep at Purdue will have plenty of motivation in Lincoln to bring home the team’s first conference title since 2008.
”Luckily for us we have the luxury of having an older lineup, and a little bit of older guys on the team,” Bakich said of his roster. ”We don’t start any freshmen in the starting lineup. They’re mature; they know how to handle these types of situations... We haven’t done anything yet; we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Despite some great seasons over the past few years, a banner-worthy accomplishment has eluded Michigan. This weekend puts Michigan in the driver’s seat and exactly where it wants to be. It’s on the Wolverines to seize the day, win a few games, and hoist the hardware that players have been dreaming about since fall ball.