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Baseball Roundup: Michigan takes two of three from Michigan State

Wolverines win rivalry series in East Lansing.

Michigan Baseball (23-12) traveled up to East Lansing this weekend for a three-game series against the rival Michigan State Spartans (13-22) and came back to Ann Arbor with a 2-1 series win.

The Wolverines - who have lost only one series all season - opened up the weekend in strong fashion with wins on both Friday and Saturday, but fell in the Sunday finale when given the chance for a sweep.

Only taking two of three from a Big Ten bottomfeeder like this 2021 MSU team is a bit of a disappointment for a Michigan team with decent postseason aspirations. On the bright side, Michigan did get a much-needed series win coming off the Rutgers series loss two weeks ago and a split with Illinois last week that had dropped them out of the Top 25 lists.

Starting pitching controlled the weekend for both teams, with the better starting performance in each game leading to victory. Here’s a breakdown of each matchup:

Game 1: Michigan 5, MSU 1

In a true ace vs. ace matchup, Steven Hajjar and Mason Erla both took the mound to begin the series on Friday night in East Lansing. Hajjar was the star of the show on this night, out-dueling Erla by tossing six shutout innings while recording 13 strikeouts against just a single hit and walk. Hajjar showed signs of getting back to this form last week against Illinois, when he was snakebitten by wind-aided homers, and fully got there with this performance at McLane Stadium. Most of his misses were low where it would be hard for the Spartans to take advantage and his stuff looked as good as ever while tying hitters in knots and striking out the side in order in both the third and fifth innings.

Erla pitched pretty well for the Spartans on the whole, striking out eight over five innings of work, but ultimately was done in by walks and timely Wolverine hitting. Michigan scored twice in the third inning on a string of hits including RBIs on a Griffin Mazur single and a Ted Burton double. They tacked on another run in the fourth on a Christian Molfetta single to go up 3-0. Mazur added two more RBIs on a single in the ninth after MSU scored an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth and Willie Weiss finished off an uneventful four-out save to get the series-opening win.

Game 2: Michigan 3, MSU 1

The performance of the weekend happened on Saturday, as Cameron Weston quickly outshone his predecessor in the Michigan rotation. Weston was in complete control from the start of the day and took it all the way home, recording his first career complete game in a nine-strike out one-hitter on 105 pitches. The only traffic on the base paths Michigan State could muster all day came on a second-inning leadoff double by Jack Frank, who scored on a wild pitch and sacrifice fly, and an eighth-inning hit batsman who never left first base. Weston has arguably been Michigan’s most consistent pitcher all season and went above and beyond with this performance.

He got enough support from his offense in this one thanks to a pair of homers: one to start the second by Benjamin Sems and start the seventh by Tito Flores. Ted Burton also had an RBI single for the second straight day in the second inning to give the Wolverines three total runs on the day. Wyatt Rush was the most impressive of three Spartan pitchers on the day, striking out five and walking three but not allowing a hit through 3.1 innings in the middle of the game. Merely solid but unspectacular pitching wasn’t enough to match Weston, however, and Michigan secured the series win with a game to go.

Game 3: MSU 10, Michigan 2

Things came crashing back down to Earth on Sunday for the Wolverines, however. Sloppy play in the field and on the mound for much of the ballgame allowed things to slip away early, with Michigan State leading 10-0 after four innings of play thanks to a seven-run fourth on just two hits. Michigan starter Jacob Denner was chased from the game in the third after allowing two unearned runs in the first and an earned run in the third. While Blake Beers got out of the jam without allowing any more runs and pitched a quick fourth inning, he got in trouble in the fifth and failed to record an out while loading the bases on two hits and a walk. Ben Dragani struggled in relief, as well, facing three batters and walking two, with an error sandwiched in between. Willie Weiss then came in to try to stop the bleeding, but four runs scored while he was on the mound including an unearned run charged to him. Joe Pace and Logan Wood concluded with three scoreless innings to finally stem the scoring.

Sam Benschoter was excellent on the mound for the Spartans on Sunday to make sure there was never any doubt of an MSU victory. He went seven innings, scattered seven hits, and set down seven Michigan hitters on strikes while only walking one and allowing two runs in the seventh inning thanks to four Michigan singles to begin the inning. Outside of that string of hits, the Wolverines only threatened one other when they loaded the bases with two outs in the second, but Benschoter got a Christian Molfetta line out to the left-field wiggle out of it.

A sour ending to the weekend for Michigan, for sure, but a series win nonetheless to keep the Wolverines in second place in the Big Ten. We’ll see if either of those two factors provide momentum into the biggest weekend of Big Ten baseball so far this year when the 1st Place Indiana Hoosiers come to Ray Fisher Stadium for a three-game series.