It was a quick, quiet weekend for Michigan in the South Bend Regional, and two straight losses to start the NCAA Tournament meant the end of the Wolverines’ season. Michigan fell to UConn 6-1 Friday night and Central Michigan 8-2 Saturday afternoon, as the offense struggled to convert opportunities while pitching faltered in key spots.
Erik Bakich loves to talk about two-out RBI being worth their weight in gold, and that was on display to the utmost degree in these two contests. Of the 14 runs surrendered by Michigan pitchers, nine of them came with two outs; the Wolverines failed to score a run when down to their final out in the frame.
Both games essentially boiled down to that stat above, but let’s briefly run through how things played out:
Game 1: UConn 6, Michigan 1
The scouts were out in full force to watch Steven Hajjar vs Austin Peterson on Friday night, and they definitely got a show early on. Both guys had their A-game out of the gate, spotting fastballs low in the zone while pulling the string and forcing some silly swings from opposing hitters. Hajjar would go six innings while striking out nine, but also allowing four runs on eight hits and a walk. Peterson, meanwhile, went 5.2 innings of one-run ball, striking out seven compared to just two hits and three walks.
UConn got on the board first, when a two-out walk to Big East Player of the Year Kyler Fedko was followed by a pair of singles to go up 1-0 in the bottom of the third. Michigan responded quickly when All-Big Ten First Teamer Ted Burton hit a game-tying bomb to left in the fourth, but that would be Michigan’s last hit of the game. UConn threatened in the bottom of the 5th inning and Michigan in the top of the sixth, but both teams ran their way out of favorable positions. The Huskies jumped back out to the lead in the bottom of the sixth, though, thanks to a quartet of singles resulting in three runs (two of them scoring with two outs.)
Will Proctor came in for Michigan in the seventh and had his worst outing of the year at an inopportune time, facing three batters and giving up three hits, two doubles, and two runs before being removed for Isaiah Paige. Paige got a double play lineout to record a couple of outs but was then removed - perhaps with the hopes he’d be used again later in the weekend - in favor of Jack White, who finished things with 1.1 perfect innings. UConn had already gone up 6-1, though, and that would be the final score despite Michigan forcing closer Caleb Wurster into the game after a pair of ninth innings walks to briefly threaten a comeback. A disappointing start, for sure, and the Wolverines would have to rebound in about 14 hours to try to stay alive.
Game 2: CMU 8, Michigan 2
Saturday afternoon looked a whole lot like Friday night for the Wolverines off the bat. Tito Flores hit a homer on the fifth pitch of the ballgame to put Michigan up 1-0 while a two-out walk in the bottom of the 1st led to a run for CMU and Michigan was once again tied 1-1 going into the middle innings. A single and a monster shot from Garret Navarra started off the bottom of the fourth for the Chips to put CMU up 3-1. Then they chased Michigan starter Cameron Weston in the fifth with a two-out rally that would eventually score two more runs charged to Weston and see two Michigan relievers come into the game.
Michigan threatened with two outs in the top of the sixth in an effort to respond but could not plate a run, as was the case all game long. Another two-out rally for CMU, however, resulted in a two-run moonshot from Griffin Lockwood-Powell that just kept carrying over the center field wall; there was a consistent South Bend wind that was blowing out all weekend with occasional gusts that definitely helped this one.
Trailing 7-1 heading into the seventh inning, Michigan needed to make a stand. Two singles and an error loaded the bases with nobody out and the top of the order coming up, but Jordan Patty got a strikeout looking followed by a double play that seemingly sapped whatever energy Michigan had left. The Chips tacked on another two-out run in the bottom of the eighth and Jimmy Obertop hit a no-doubter in the top of the ninth to make the score 8-2, but a Christian Bullock fly ball fell just short on the warning track to end the ballgame and the Wolverines’ season.
There’s really not much more you can say about the weekend other than Michigan failed to come through in tight spots where their opponents succeeded. In another weekend, maybe the sequencing falls differently and Michigan takes one of these games, but that just wasn’t the case here. It’s a bit of a shame to see the momentum from the Wolverines’ 2019 CWS run dissipate after the cancelled 2020 season and an underwhelming 2021 postseason, but it’s still not hard to see that Bakich has the program pointed in the right direction with their fourth regional appearance in the last six tournaments; the Wolverines hadn’t made it in six seasons before that run began.
Next up, the team turns their attention to the MLB Draft in July, where they are likely to lose a few key names and will learn which holes need to be filled going into 2022.