In an enormous weekend for the Big Ten title race, the Michigan baseball team welcomed the Indiana Hoosiers to Ann Arbor for a three-game series at Ray Fisher Stadium. Thanks to some clutch offense and great starting pitching, the Wolverines were able to come away with wins on both Friday and Sunday to take the series and move into a tie with the Hoosiers in the “games back” column; both teams now trail Nebraska by one game after the weekend.
By winning percentage, Michigan is sitting in third place after the Big Ten action this weekend, but do have two more series to make up ground and stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title and NCAA Tournament auto-bid as they did this past weekend. Let’s take a look at how each game shook out:
Game 1: Michigan 10, Indiana 3
Friday night featured a great matchup on the mound, with two of the Big Ten’s best squaring off: Michigan’s Steven Hajjar and Indiana’s Tommy Sommer. Although, out of the gate it did not appear a pitcher’s duel was in the cards.
Michigan hopped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 2nd inning thanks to a Ted Burton solo home run that set in motion an excellent weekend for Burton. Indiana would strike back immediately, though, scoring two in the top of the 3rd on a walk and three singles, including a bloop two-run single by Cole Barr. Not to be outdone, the Wolverines immediately responded, themselves, with a five-run bottom half. Over the course of five pitches after Jimmy Obertop loaded the bases on a walk, Michigan hit four run-scoring singles and chased Sommer for the game after just 2.1 innings of work. Those RBIs from Griffin Mazur, Benjamin Sems, Ted Burton, and Tito Flores (x2) set the tone for the rest of the day, as Michigan never looked back.
Hajjar settled in nicely and ended up going 6.1 innings on 113 pitches, walking four and striking out eight while allowing three runs. He never quite had command of his arsenal all day, but still found a way to be effective and keep the Hoosier at bay, as he and Isaiah Paige - who pitched the remaining 2.2 innings of scoreless ball - held the Indiana lineup without and extra-base hit all day. Michigan’s other runs to keep things safely out of reach came on a three-run homer by Mazur in the 4th inning and a solo shot from Clark Elliott in the 8th, leading to comfortable win to kick things off.
Game 2: Indiana 13, Michigan 8
In another matchup between great arms, McCade Brown for Indiana squared off against Cameron Weston for Michigan, with the Hoosier arm coming away victorious this time.
A pitcher’s duel DID seem in the cards early on this time, with both pitchers cruising through two innings. In the top of the 3rd, however, Indiana capitalized to score four runs - only one earned - on a quartet of hits and an error that included a pair of triples by Drew Ashley and Kip Fougerousse. That was all the Hoosiers got off of Weston, who was a little off on the mound after last week’s magnificent complete game but still managed to get through five innings before turning things over to a bullpen that also didn’t have a great day. Because of that, by the time Michigan finally got to Brown a bit in the bottom of the 7th inning, it was 7-0 Indiana thanks to a Grant Richardson three-run bomb. Michigan did make it interesting, though, scoring five runs thanks to a parade of walks and singles to make it 7-5 going into the 8th inning, but Indiana pulled back away with six more runs in that eighth inning. Joe Pace and Willie Weiss were saddled with four and two runs, respectively, in that inning before Blake Beers was able to stop the bleeding. That was too much for the Michigan offense to overcome over the final two frames, though, and the series was tied headed into the Sunday finale.
Game 3: Michigan 6, Indiana 1
Appropriately, the rubber game on Sunday was probably the best baseball game of the series. There were some really good performances on the mound by Michigan’s Jacob Denner and Indiana’s Gabe Bierman to keep things tight throughout and ultimately the game was won by the difference in executing the fundamentals. To get the pitching lines out of the way, Denner went 6.1 innings while surrendering a single run on a solo home run, scattered three other hits and a walk while striking out six in maybe the best performance of his young career. He got the win over the veteran Bierman, who went 7.1 innings and gave up four runs on five hits and four free passes while striking out six.
In terms of the scoring, Michigan struck first in the bottom of the 2nd with a Griffin Mazur sacrifice fly to drive in Benjamin Sems and a Tito Flores double (one of two RBI doubles on the day for Flores) to drive in Ted Burton. They added to the lead in the 4th when Burton doubled to lead off the inning, was moved over on a groundout, and scored on a wild pitch in perfect execution of the “get em on, get em over, get em in” philosophy. Indiana got a run back on a Morgan Collopy solo homer in the top of the 5th, and Collopy had a nice day when he added a double later on to record the Hoosiers’ only two extra-base hits in the game.
The pivotal inning of the game was probably the 8th, however. After Willie Weiss surrendered a pair of walks with only one out, Indiana’s threat to get back into the game was stifled by a pair of huge groundouts induced by Will Proctor in relief. Then in the bottom half of the frame, Indiana was unable to get out of a one-out, two-on jam when the Hoosiers defense failed to catch a Flores bloop double in shallow centerfield that scored two and surrendered another pair of runs on a throwing error that would’ve ended the inning. Proctor stayed in the game to close things out and Michigan came away with an enormous series victory against one of the Big Ten’s premier teams in 2021.
The Wolverines will now try to keep up their great work of limiting extra-base hits and winning games when they welcome a red-hot Maryland to town next weekend in the penultimate weekend of an exciting Big Ten title race.