In a tight Big Ten conference, the Michigan baseball team needed a big series to claim a prime position heading into the Big Ten Tournament. But when the Wolverines needed to come through most, they couldn’t muster the strength to make the difference.
In its final regular season series, Michigan (26-26 overall, 13-11 Big Ten) was swept by Ohio State (31-25, 9-15), losing by lopsided scores of 7-3, 9-5 and 7-2, respectively. And while blowing its opportunity to move up in the Big Ten standings, one phrase summarized the Wolverines’ weekend: What can go wrong will go wrong.
In Friday’s opener, Michigan was bludgeoned early and often. Usually with junior left-hander Connor O’Halloran on the mound, the Wolverines feel it can beat anybody in the nation. On Friday, however, O’Halloran’s uncharacteristic performance was a large reason why Michigan dropped its series opener to the Buckeyes.
Far from his usual self, O’Halloran only pitched 4.1 innings. And in those innings, he allowed five runs and seven hits. By the time he exited the ballgame, the Wolverines were dug into a 5-1 hole. And due yet another inconsistent offensive performance, the Wolverines could not climb back out of it.
“(We have to) pitch the baseball better and certainly throw strikes,” Michigan coach Tracy Smith said. “It all starts on the mound (and) we just haven’t done a good job of that.”
The lone bright spot of Friday’s game was senior designated hitter Jimmy Obertop. Obertop knocked in all three runs for the Wolverines via two home runs in the second and sixth innings, respectively.
But otherwise, the offensive production was disastrous, as Michigan left nine runners on base. Similar to the Xavier loss earlier in the week, the Wolverines proved unable to produce with runners in scoring position, yet again — even blowing a bases-loaded opportunity in the third inning. Once again, Michigan’s own offensive miscues shot itself in the foot.
“I was disappointed,” Smith said of the Wolverines’ offense. “I was just disappointed with our approach. It’s unacceptable (and) not characteristic of this group. … Our offensive approach has to be way better.”
And unfortunately for Michigan, its difficulties continued on Saturday en route to another dominant performance by Ohio State. This time, however, the offense improved, and the loss instead was attributed more to the pitching. Due to the loss of junior right-hander Chase Allen, the Wolverines once again employed senior right-hander Noah Rennard on the mound, forcing him to play out of his role as a reliever for another weekend.
In the loss, Rennard’s true role showed. Rennard lasted just four innings and, in a lackluster performance, Michigan quickly fell behind, 4-0, after just two innings of play. Although the Wolverines returned with two runs of their own off of a two-run home run from senior second baseman Ted Burton in the top of the third inning, they simply couldn’t keep the momentum rolling.
Similar to Friday’s contest, Michigan’s offense couldn’t capitalize after holding the Buckeyes to scoreless innings. And eventually, the Wolverines paid for it in the form of home runs by center fielder Trey Lipsey and right fielder Mitchell Okuley to extend Ohio State’s lead to 6-2 in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively. A triple from Lipsey later in the sixth inning only put the game further out of reach for Michigan and, despite a small rally in the ninth inning, the Wolverines came up short once again.
Michigan came into this series controlling its own destiny. Leave Columbus with a sweep, and its prospects would have looked much better heading into postseason play starting next Tuesday.
But because the Wolverines failed to do what they hoped due to their own vices, they’re on the wrong side of a tough conference bracket.