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 the plate without reaching base, the Wolverines had seven of their next 10 batters reach while scoring five runs to storm back from an early 1-0 deficit. Michigan defeated 12-seed Louisville, the host of the regional, 7-3, to advance to Sunday’s regional final at 4 p.m. The Wolverines will face the winner of Sunday’s noon game between the Cardinals and Oregon, which lost to Michigan, 8-6, on Friday night before eliminating Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
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On Saturday, Louisville righty Jared Poland, who entered Saturday with a 2.92 ERA over 74 innings, was cruising with two outs in the third when U-M first baseman Jake Marti singled on a 1-0 count. Clark Elliott, the MVP of the Big Ten tournament last weekend, then launched 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) into a tie for fourth (with Nate Recknagel, who had 68 in 2008) in program history for a single season. Elliott is just four behind Casey Close, U-M’s single-season leader with 72 in 1986.
That was followed by a homer just over the fence in center by Joe Stewart on the third pitch of his at-bat. Matt Frey added a single, but Jimmy Obertop, who homered twice Friday, lined out to 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 weren’t done in the bottom of the frame. With one out, Riley Bertram singled, then advanced on an error by the catcher. After Bertram stole third and a walk to Ted Burton put runners on the corners, Joey Velazquez drove in Bertram with a single through the hole between first and second. Marti then provided a bit of juice, laying down a sac bunt to score Burton and make it 5-2.
Elliott grounded out to end the fourth, but the Wolverines kept rolling when they came up in the fifth, as Stewart and Frey singled (with Stewart advancing to third). Again, the Wolverines made the most of their outs: Obertop hit a sac fly to the right fielder in foul territory, scoring Stewart, and Frey advanced to second on an error by the right fielder. After a lineout by Tito Flores, Bertram singled to left to bring in Frey and end Poland’s outing with seven runs (six earned) allowed.
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Erik Bakich seemingly made all the right moves on a bullpen day (despite being without the services of Willie Weiss, suspended for using a foreign substance in the Big Ten tournament); Walker Cleveland opened with one 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 scoreless fifth and sixth innings despite getting into a jam with runners on the corners in the latter.
Denner ran into trouble in the seventh, however, with back-to-back one-out singles by the Cardinals, followed by a run-scoring wild pitch that went between Obertop’s legs behind home. A bloop double down the right-field line by Cameron Masterman put runners on first and third and ended Denner’s outing, with Bakich turning to Chase Allen, who allowed two runs in an inning of work Friday. On his first pitch, Allen got Levi Usher to line out to second to relieve some of the pressure. Allen then fielded an easy comebacker from Logan Beard to keep Michigan’s lead at four runs, 7-3.
Cameron Weston started the eighth and allowed a walk and a single but kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard. Likewise, Michigan threatened again with runners on first and third with one out, but couldn’t add an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Weston then finished off the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.