ANN ARBOR, Mich. – On a cold and dreary Tuesday, the gray that hung over Ray Fisher Stadium provided a setting that resembled a fall football Saturday as opposed to a late-season baseball game. Then “Put On” by Young Jeezy blared over the stadium speakers as Wolverine designated hitter Jordan Nwogu stepped to the dish in the bottom of the first and business was about to pick up.
The Big Ten’s leader in on-base percentage (.479 entering the game) swung at a pitch from Michigan State’s Jarrett Olson, and the ball died one foot below the right-field fence. Nwogu made it to third safely, and his triple did what Michigan has done against Michigan State over the past ten meetings between the two rivals: set the tone in favor of the maize and blue.
On the next at-bat, Jesse Franklin (2 for 3, HR, 3 RBI) hit a liner into center field that was caught for an out but was deep enough to score Nwogu and give Michigan a 1-0 lead early. Thanks to the success at the plate of sophomores Nwogu and Franklin as well as nine shutout innings from the pitching staff led by Isaiah Page, the Wolverines notched a 7-0 win over the Spartans. The win was Michigan’s ninth straight against Michigan State; the Wolverines have won 10 of the last 11 meetings between the two schools over the past three seasons.
“Guys getting on base,” Franklin listed as the key to success. “The sac flys, I wasn’t really trying to hit pop ups like that but if nobody is on base those are just big old pop flys.”
Tuesday’s tilt did not count towards conference standings as part of an agreement between the two programs to play one non-conference game per year to allow for two home meetings per team. That fact aside, the satisfaction of besting a rival yet again never gets old for coach Erik Bakich or his Wolverines.
“Always good to beat your rival,” Bakich stated plainly. “Whether it’s 7-0 or 7-6, just to come out on top. You go to Michigan to play these types of rivalry games. “For us to get three victories over them this season is special, and is something our guys will remember.”
Nwogu and Franklin have found success in their sophomore years with Nwogu hitting .350 and Franklin drawing 36 walks, which leads the Big Ten. The pair had a hand in four of Michigan’s seven runs with Franklin adding a solo home run in the third to his RBI sac fly in the first, and scoring on a Jimmy Kerr RBI single in the seventh. The two-run lead held for Michigan as its pitching staff managed to keep the Spartans at bay at the plate and on the basepaths.
“Those are two very good hitters right there,” Bakich told Maize n Brew post game. “Jordan is not a typical leadoff hitter, and neither is Jesse a two hole, but maybe in the newer age of constructing lineup they fit more that mold, but we like them getting as many at bats as they can.”
As night fell on Ray Fisher Stadium, things got hairy for the Big Ten’s top team in the top of the seventh. Michigan State managed to load the bases with one out after Angelo Smith walked Andrew Morrow. The sophomore showed great resolve by striking out Bryce Kelley on three straight pitches in the next at bat. With two men out, Spartan right fielder Dan Chmielewski worked the count to 2-2 and connected on a liner to right field. Junior Jordan Brewer went full extension to make the catch as the crowd roared in approval. Michigan managed to escape a bases-loaded jam with no damage to its small lead.
“It was a good piece of hitting, guy went the other way with two strikes, we’ve got a great athlete out there in Jordan Brewer who made a circus catch to save a tie game because two runs we’re gonna score on that play.” Bakich said.
“I was impressed but not that surprised,” said Franklin of Smith working the Wolverines out of trouble. “He has a really good slider and a fastball that moves a lot. There’s been plenty of times where he throws the slider to me and other kids in practice and strikes us out so I’m glad he did the same to them.”
Michigan’s offense gave its pitchers some much-needed run security in the bottom of the seventh. Kerr’s RBI single brought in one, Brewer scored on a wild pitch, and Blake Nelson’s groundout to short allowed Kerr to score. Through seven, the lead extended to five as Jack Weisenburger was entrusted to finish the game. Weisenburger struck out Spartan pinch hitter Scott Combs and the Wolverines secured their 12th straight victory.
For a team that is chasing its first Big Ten Championship in eleven years, but has been part of these late season title pushes under Bakich, he keeps the philosophy simple.
“It’s just one at a time,” the coach replied. “We experienced some of this last year and you just gotta keep your head down and stay focused on getting better. One day, one game, one inning, one pitch.”
He also made sure to point out that while Michigan has 35 wins under its belt, the Wolverines haven’t won anything just yet.
“We haven’t done anything yet, haven’t accomplished anything yet, we’re playing well, and those are our goals right now. Our guys are doing a good job with all of that.”
Michigan will look to push its win streak to 13 straight as the Wolverines host Eastern Michigan Wednesday followed by a three-game home series against Indiana this weekend with Sunday being Senior Day.