After taking two of three against Rutgers over the weekend in Ann Arbor at Ray Fisher Stadium, the Michigan Wolverines have officially earned their place in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament at at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.
The No. 5 seed Wolverines will take on the No. 4 seed Illinois Fighting Illini this Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST (yikes) in the first round of the tourney. This is a double-elimination tournament so even if Michigan falls to Illinois, it will have another shot to advance.
You can catch every game of the tournament live on Big Ten Network, so there will be ample opportunity to see the Wolverines in action this week.
But none of this would have been possible without taking the three-game series this past weekend against the Scarlet Knights, who enter the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 2 seed. They have been as good as it gets in the conference this year, so let’s take a look at how Michigan was able to get the job done.
Every single game between Michigan and Rutgers last weekend was high scoring, just the way I like my baseball. And the offense for Michigan started right in the first inning thanks to the first two home runs of the game, which came off the bats of Clark Elliott and Joe Stewart. Elliott’s homer was his third leadoff dinger of the season.
The Wolverines quickly had a 2-0 lead, but Rutgers answered with two runs of its own in the top of the second to knot the game at two.
Let’s fast forward to the fifth inning, where stuff got pretty crazy. Michigan was up 4-2 at this point, but Rutgers took a 5-4 lead after the top half of the inning thanks to three-run shot by Jordan Sweeney. But the Wolverines clawed right back and put up a four-spot in the bottom of the fifth. It all started with a Matt Frey double, then Jimmy Obertop blasted a home run to right field to retake the lead, 6-5. But that wasn’t the end of the inning for Michigan, as Joey Velazquez launched a two-run dinger to give Michigan the 8-5 lead.
Michigan scored an insurance run in the sixth, and Rutgers did put up one more run in the eighth, but that’s all she wrote for the first game of the series, as Michigan took this one, 9-6, despite having one less hit and two errors.
If you thought 9-6 was a close game, how about 9-7? That’s what the final score of this one was, so let’s get right into how Michigan overcame the odds to win this one.
With the score tied at 1-1, the Scarlet Knights put on an offensive performance in the third inning. Michigan starting pitcher Jacob Denner had a fielding error which kept the inning going for Rutgers with two outs. Hit after hit after hit with two outs put the Wolverines in a quick 5-1 hole. Michigan was able to get a run back in the bottom of the third, but Rutgers put up another two runs in the top half of the fourth.
But those would be the last two runs Rutgers would plate on the day. And in the bottom of the fourth inning, Michigan’s offense exploded for five runs. Two runs came courtesy of wild pitches, and then ole reliable Joe Stewart cranked a three-run home run to tie the game 7-7.
The game-deciding run came in the bottom of the sixth courtesy of a Jimmy Obertop RBI double off the centerfield wall. Michigan tacked on one more run in the seventh inning off the always fun to see suicide squeeze, executed to perfection by Brandon Lawrence.
Final score: Michigan 9, Rutgers 7.
The Wolverines had already taken the series and locked in a spot in the Big Ten Tournament. Everything else was gravy from here on out, but man oh man was this a wild game.
Let’s move to the third inning. With Rutgers up 2-0, Michigan finally got the bats going. A two-RBI single by Joe Stewart started the scoring for Michigan and tied the game up. An error scored one more run to give the Wolverines the one-run lead, and then an RBI single by Jimmy Obertop put Michigan up 4-2.
It was looking to be another high scoring affair early on, and that proved to be true because Rutgers put up a five-spot right after Michigan put up four. The Scarlet Knights temporarily retook a 7-4 lead, but Michigan stormed right back with three runs in the bottom half of the fourth thanks to RBI singles from Jake Marti and Clark Elliott, and a sac fly from Stewart. The tie didn’t last long, as Rutgers took the lead back in the top of the fifth inning off a wild pitch.
A two-run homer for Rutgers right fielder Richie Schiekofer in the seventh inning gave the Scarlet Knights a 10-7 lead. Michigan attempted to come back, but it was too late as Rutgers also put up four runs apiece in the eighth and ninth innings. By the time it was all said and done, Rutgers took the final game of the series, 18-12.
Next up for Michigan is Illinois this Wednesday at the unworldly hour of 10 p.m. EST, the final game of the day for the start of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Fighting Illini are 31-20 overall and 17-7 in the conference. They enter the tourney on a four-game winning streak, sweeping Penn State on the road to end the regular season. They’ve only lost two games throughout the month of May, but they haven’t played well on neutral site fields this season, going 3-6 in those contests.
A couple players to watch for Illinois offensively include sophomore infielder Justin Janas, junior infielder/outfield Cam McDonald and sophomore outfielder Danny Doligale. Janas is one of the best pure batters on the team, with an average of .355. an OPS of 1.059 and an on-base percentage of .505. McDonald leads the team in average (.369) doubles (17) and RBI (58), while Doligale hits for average (.351) and is a base-stealing threat (18-of-19).
Illinoi’s best starting pitcher is lefty Cole Kirschsieper. Touting a team-best 3.17 ERA, he is 7-2 on the season with 82.1 innings pitched. He is by far their best pitcher, so I would expect to see him on the mound this Wednesday against the Wolverines. He has not pitched since May 19, so he will have had six days to rest up.