On the final weekend of the regular season, Michigan was tasked with going to a full capacity Haymarket Park in Lincoln for a three-game series against the Big Ten Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers. This was the final chance for the Wolverines to make their case for an NCAA Tournament bid, and they did just enough in a weekend with some excellent all-around baseball to earn a spot as one of the Last Four Teams in the field and will play in the South Bend Regional next weekend.
There will be more coverage for the tournament upcoming this week on Maize n’ Brew, so make sure to check in later on for that, but for now, let’s take a look at how the final games of the season played out:
Game 1: Nebraska 1, Michigan 0
Friday afternoon set the tone for the entire series, with two aces dealing on the mound and great defense behind them making plays. Right off the bat, Nebraska starter Cade Povich fired an immaculate inning to rack up his first three of nine total strikeouts on the day. Povich’s command was excellent on all aspects of his diverse pitch mix and he was beautifully playing his pitches off one another to really amplify his arsenal and helped him take a no-hitter into the fifth inning en route to his seven-inning shutout performance. Steven Hajjar was up for the challenge set by Povich, responding with a complete game (eight innings) performance, allowing only four hits and two walks while striking out five. Unfortunately, a pair of two-out singles bookending a stolen base by Big Ten Player of the Year Spencer Schwellenbach resulted in a run in the 6th inning that proved to be enough for the Cornhuskers to come out on top.
Schwellenbach would also go on to earn the save and was unsurprisingly named First Team All-B1G on Sunday along with both starters from this ballgame. Their defenses also deserve some tremendous credit, as well, and a look through the @umichbaseball Twitter feed from the game gives a great highlight package of the plays being made all game on Friday and all weekend overall.
Game 2: Michigan 2, Nebraska 0
Just as the first game in the series was a low-scoring affair with great defense and both teams even in the hit column, the first of two Saturday affairs lived up to the billing of two top B1G teams squaring off. Just like Hajjar before him, Cameron Weston pitched extremely well on the mound to start for Michigan and he and Willie Weiss combining in this one may have saved Michigan’s tournament bid. Weston did a great job of scattering four hits and a walk through seven innings while striking out four and getting a key double-play ball in the 2nd inning when the Huskers mounted the best threat they would have all game. Weiss finished off by pitching the final two innings, allowing just one baserunner on a Schwellenbach single and striking out two to earn the save.
The scoring in the game came in the 4th and 5th innings against reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Chance Hroch. A pair of walks to begin the 4th from Tito Flores and Benjamin Sems eventually led to an RBI fielder’s choice from Griffin Mazur to put Michigan up 1-0. Then in the 5th, a pair of singles by Clark Elliot and Tito Flores bookended a wild pitch that moved Elliot into scoring position for the Flores RBI. That 2-0 score held up and the Wolverines weren’t able to muster even a baserunner over the final three frames but came away with the win anyway thanks to the aforementioned great pitching and, for a second straight day, some fantastic, highlight-reel defense.
Game 3: Nebraska 5, Michigan 3
For most of the Saturday doubleheader nightcap, the game didn’t seem as close as the final score indicated. Nebraska jumped on Ben Dragani for a Jaxon Hallmark solo homer in the 3rd inning and got three more runs in the 4th to chase Dragani before he could record an out in that frame. Meanwhile, the Wolverines didn’t threaten seriously through the first six innings against a mixture of Kyle Perry and Shay Schanaman. Things started to get interesting in the top of the 7th when Michigan was able to load the bases with two outs, but Schanaman got a huge strikeout to keep the Wolverines off the board. A leadoff homer run in the bottom of the 8th from Max Anderson made the score 5-0 in favor of Nebraska, and that was just a little bit too much for Michigan to overcome in the 9th. A pair of two-out singles from Mazur and Christian Molfetta followed by a Jimmy Obertop bomb made things interesting, but Schwellenbach returned to the mound from his shortstop position to record the final out and his second save of the weekend.
Overall, an excellent weekend of baseball between two teams that anyone watching could tell were both NCAA Tournament-worthy. Excellent pitching and defense were the theme and led to some great, high-intensity action throughout. Despite losing the series, Michigan looked really good to great during the weekend and this is a much better way to go into the tournament than a series like last weekend was, in my opinion.