STANFORD, Calif. — The University of Michigan baseball team split a rain-delayed doubleheader against No. 8 Stanford on Saturday (March 3), handing the previously undefeated Cardinal their first loss of the 2018 season.
The Wolverines lost a heartbreaker in the early game, as they led until the final swing of the bat when Stanford walked off for the win, 3-2, but rallied strong in the late game to claim a 5-0 victory and snap a six-game slide. The two-game afternoon was pushed back by more than an hour-and-a-half into the evening due to heavy rain in the area.
Despite the Wolverines throwing 8.1 innings of scoreless baseball with multiple clutch two-out efforts along the way, it was Stanford that ultimately came up with the biggest play — a walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to take a 3-2 win over Michigan in Game 1.
Sophomore starting pitcher Tommy Henry turned in a career-best performance to put Michigan in position for the upset of the undefeated Cardinal; Henry went seven shutout innings with five strikeouts — tying his career best — and just five hits.
Henry’s outing, combined with solid defense, timely offense and a few good breaks, kept the Wolverines in contention despite just three hits on the afternoon and six innings in which the Wolverines were retired in order.
Michigan’s first opportunity came in the top of the fourth, as Ako Thomas earned a leadoff walk that ultimately turned into the Wolverines’ first run. Christian Bullock then perfectly placed a bunt to both get on base and advance Thomas to second, from where he scored on Miles Lewis‘ single to left field just beyond the outstretched reach of the Stanford outfielder.
Henry did his part over the next two innings, getting himself out of sticky situations in back-to-back innings. With Cardinal runners on second and third and just one out in the fourth, Henry allowed a fly-out to the Stanford batter that was caught by a hard-charging Jonathan Engelmann in center field. Engelmann wound up and fired a quick throw to catcher Harrison Salter, who tagged out the potential tying run for an inning-ending double play.
Again finding himself with two runners on and one out in the fifth, he coaxed a fly-out and fielded grounders to the mound on consecutive batters to escape the inning with the shutout intact.
It was the offense’s turn to come through in the clutch in the top of the seventh. After a bunt by Salter was not enough to get pinch-runner Jordan Nwogu — who stole two bases in the inning — home safely, the Wolverines were able to load the bases with Brock Keener, Salter and Jack Blomgren. One inning after being tagged out at the plate, Jimmy Kerr forced a fielding error at third base that brought Keener home to give Michigan a 2-0 lead.
The Michigan defense held steady through the next two frames, with relief pitcher Jeff Criswell weathering another two-runner, no-out situation with a double-play and a groundout.
Criswell managed to dismiss one Stanford batter in the bottom of the ninth, but allowed two men to reach base and they would eventually become part of the three-run homer that ended Game 1.
Michigan got another gem from its starting pitcher in Game 2, this time courtesy of Karl Kauffmann. His career best and team-best 10 strikeouts and three hits over 6.2 innings of work held nationally ranked Stanford at bay until the offense came through to deliver a 5-0 win.
Keener and Blomgren led the offense for Michigan in Game 2, with Keener scoring two runs and Blomgren raking in two runs batted in. The pair spearheaded the U-M offense which took advantage of four Stanford errors — twice as many as the Cardinal had committed in any single game prior to Saturday — and key opportunities with runners on base.
Michigan’s offense came alive in the top of the fifth, with three Wolverines coming home to score during the frame. After U-M started the fifth with two outs, Keener singled to left to give Michigan its first baserunner. Joe Donovan walked and Kerr made it to first on a fielder’s choice that moved Keener to third and Donovan to second to load the bases for Blomgren.
Facing an 0-2 count with two outs, Blomgren knocked a single to center, but an error by the center fielder brought home all three baserunners for a 3-0 Michigan advantage.
Though those runs would be enough for the victory, Keener came around for an insurance run in the seventh inning by way of a Stanford throwing error on a Donovan single. Keener figured once more into the scoring in the next inning, batting into a double play that freed up Lewis for an unchallenged path home for Michigan’s fifth, and final, run.
Following Kauffman’s departure in the seventh, reliever Jack Weisenburger held it down for the remainder of the game, as he allowed one baserunner via a walk with three strikeouts 2.1 innings.
Michigan and Stanford will wrap up their four-game series on Sunday (March 4). First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. PT and fans can watch the game live on the Pac-12 Network.