Good things come to those who wait, they say, and they certainly did for Michigan baseball on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament.
After sending their first eight batters to home plate without reaching base, the Wolverines hit seven of their next 10 batters while scoring five runs to come back from an early 1-0 deficit. Michigan defeated 12-seeded regional host Louisville 7-3 to advance to Sunday’s regional final at 4 p.m. The Wolverines will face the winner of Sunday’s game at noon between the Cardinals and Oregon, which lost to Michigan, 8-6. , Friday night before eliminating Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
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On Saturday, Louisville right-hander Jared Poland, who entered Saturday with a 2.92 ERA in 74 innings, was cruising with two outs in the third when UM first baseman Jake Marti singled on a count of 1-0. Clark Elliott, the Big Ten Tournament MVP last weekend, then threw the second pitch he saw over the right field fence for a sudden 2-1 lead.
The two RBIs were Elliott’s 67th and 68th of the season, moving him past Barry Larkin (66 in 1985, sixth) and Jake Fox (67 in 2003, fifth) to tie for fourth (with Nate Recknagel, who was 68 in 2008) in the program’s history for a single season. Elliott is just four behind Casey Close, the UM single-season leader with 72 in 1986.
This was followed by a home run just over the fence at center by Joe Stewart on the third pitch from his at-bat. Matt Frey added a single, but Jimmy Obertop, who homered twice on Friday, fielded left.
The Cardinals came back with another run in the top of the fourth, on two singles sandwiched around a pair of outs, but the Wolverines didn’t finish bottom of the frame. With one out, Riley Bertram scored a single, then advanced on a catcher’s error. After Bertram stole third and a walk to Ted Burton put the runners in the corners, Joey Velazquez led Bertram with a single into the hole between first and second. Marti then provided some juice, laying down a sack bunt to score Burton and make it 5-2.
Elliott failed to finish fourth, but the Wolverines continued to roll when they got to fifth, as Stewart and Frey singled (with Stewart advancing to third). Again, the Wolverines made the most of their outs: Obertop hit a sack fly to right fielder in foul territory, scoring Stewart, and Frey advanced to second on a right fielder error. After a Tito Flores lineout, Bertram singled left to bring Frey in and end Poland’s outing with seven runs (six earned) allowed.
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Erik Bakich apparently made all the right moves on a day in the bullpen (despite being without the services of Willie Weiss, suspended for using a foreign substance in the Big Ten tournament); Walker Cleveland opened with a run allowed on two hits and a walk over 1⅓ innings, followed by 2⅔ innings of one-run work by Noah Rennard, who scattered three hits and two walks. Jacob Denner pitched the fifth and sixth innings without scoring despite a traffic jam with runners on the corners in the latter.
Denner struggled in the seventh, however, with back-to-back one-out singles for the Cardinals, followed by a wild pitch that scored between Obertop’s legs behind the house. A bloop double down the right-field line by Cameron Masterman put the runners up first and third and ended Denner’s outing, with Bakich turning to Chase Allen, who allowed two runs in an inning of work on Friday. On his first pitch, Allen asked Levi Usher to line up at second to relieve some of the pressure. Allen then lined up an easy return from Logan Beard to hold Michigan’s lead to four points, 7-3.
Cameron Weston started the eighth and walked and singled, but kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard. Likewise, Michigan again threatened with runners at first and third with one out, but couldn’t add an insurance run late in the inning. Weston then finished the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.