Compared to last year, the 2023 Big Ten Baseball Tournament has moved along smooth as silk. Do you remember all of the rain delays a year ago? Aaron hasn’t forgotten getting home just in time for breakfast! So far this time around a 93-minute rain delay that let Nebraska fans soak up a few more suds to jack up their rowdiness Thursday night has been the only blip on the radar up to this point. Friday greeted the boys of summer (spring?) with more sunshine and warm temperatures, perfect weather to get out on the dirt and play some ball.
It is back to two games today, both of them elimination contests, starting with Michigan taking on Indiana at 2:00. At 7:00, Nebraska looks to re-group after their disappointing loss in the bottom of the tenth inning last night against Michigan State. Pitching becomes a valued quality today as most teams have already used a number of arms.
#2 Indiana - 6
#6 Michigan - 13
Mitch Voit. Remember that name if you are a college baseball fan as you are going to hear it a lot of over the course of the new couple of seasons. The freshman from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin did it all for the Michigan Wolverines today. Number 55 for the boys in blue made his first start in his college career on the mound, and picked up the win, after pitching 5.2 innings, giving up three runs on six hits and recording five strike outs and a walk. Not a bad first start under the pressure of a win or go home game! But that’s not all. He also went four for five at the plate with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. They did not even need to vote on the player of the game as young Mr. Voit led the Wolverines to a 13-6 win over the second seeded Indiana Hoosiers.
The pitchers were in control in the first couple of innings, though both teams were able to put runners on. Indiana started Ty Bothwell with a 4-1 record, and until the bottom of the third inning he did a decent job. At that point Michigan started putting pressure on the Indiana defense and put three runs on the board with a couple of hits, a walk and a Hoosier error. They came right back in the fourth with three more runs on back-to-back doubles by Dylan Stanton and Jonathan Kim, and another one later in the inning by Ted Burton. One had the feeling at this point that Michigan may blow it open and end it early.
Indiana finally put a run up in the top of the fifth, matched by another run by the Wolverines in the bottom half. At that point, Voit had thrown about 90 pitches and the Hoosiers started to wake up their bats. For a couple of innings starting in the top of the sixth, it became a bit of a hit-fest. Both starting pitchers were pulled and the relievers had trouble slowing down the offensive assault the rest of the game. Toss in some defensive miscues and runners were circling the bases. Indiana put up two runs in the sixth and added three in the seventh, highlighted by a two-run Bobby Whalen home run, his third round-tripper of the season. Michigan did not call off the hounds, scoring three in the bottom of the sixth and three more in the eighth. The final 13-6 Michigan win was convincing, as were their 18 hits and ten runners left on base. It could have been worse for the Hoosiers.
Michigan gets another shot at Iowa Saturday morning at 9:00. Where is the pitching going to come from? Will their offense keep them in the game against the hot Hawkeyes? Indiana takes their leave of Omaha sooner than they thought they would. With an RPI in the 30’s and a 41-18 record they will get an at-large regional bid. To succeed at that challenge, the Hoosier pitching staff is going to have to find the formula that worked for them up to this week.
#4 Nebraska - 4
#8 Michigan State - 0
Michigan State came into the tournament as the last qualifier and have played with a nothing-to-lose mindset since the first pitch of their first game. They have played without pressure and have looked good in every facet of the game. Nebraska came in knowing they could compete with anyone, but with an RPI so low that they would have to win the tournament to make the regional field. They have played well, but have certainly pressed at the plate. Which team will get to extend their season?
Sparty put their Friday starter, freshman Joseph Dzierwa on the mound to face the Cornhuskers. He’s a 6’7” lanky lefty that has led his team in strike outs. In the first three innings he was sneaky fast and kept Nebraska hitters off balance with his change-up and locating his pitches very well. Nebraska batters also seemed tight and not taking the aggressive approach they have down the final stretch of the season. Well, except for Max Anderson, who had singles in his two first at-bats, playing like he does not want this to be his last game in a Nebraska uniform.
Nebraska’s offense has played quite a bit of station-to-station small ball in the past few weeks, manufacturing runs when necessary and setting the table for the big hitters. Just like last night’s game against Maryland, runs came at a premium. The Big Red put up their first run taking advantage of Charlie Fischer leading off getting hit by a pitch. Then, like he did in his previous at-bat, Dylan Carey laid down a very good sacrifice bunt, moving Fischer to second base. Ben Columbus then drove a pitch up the middle to score Fischer.
Meanwhile, Will Walsh was incredible from the outset. This guy was not even a starter at the beginning of the year, in fact he was playing first base and pitching a few innings of relief. It wasn’t until a month into the season when he went six innings against Creighton and seven against North Dakota State that he established himself as a pitcher. Tonight, he pitched a complete game shutout, giving up four hits with seven strike outs and not a single walk or hit batter. He was consistently ahead in the count, throwing a first pitch strike to nearly every Spartan hitter. To add more perspective, he only faced more than minimum in an inning three times, and it was only four in each of those instances.
A 1-0 lead leaves no room for error, and it also provides for no breathing rooms. In addition to Walsh’s command, the Cornhuskers turned in some sterling defense. Brice Matthews made one of the most incredible catches people have seen on a ball field running down a fly ball way into right field. Gabe Swansen did a complete 180 up against the wall before laying out to snatch another hit away from the Spartans. And then Dylan Carey, who has already flashed his glove in this tournament, made a brilliant play on a tough hop at third.
Nebraska hitters gave the team some breathing room in the eighth inning when once again Ben Columbus smacked a single to score Luke Sartori from second, pinch running for Charlie Fischer. Then with two runners on base, Casey Burnham in the middle of a miserable slump pulled a two strike pitch down the line with more topspin than a Serena Williams forehand, bouncing it over the head of the first baseman for a two RBI triple. Nebraska up 4-0. Walsh then put down the green and white in order in the bottom of the inning, and struck out the side in the 9th, including a final out K of Golden Spike finalist Brock Vradenburg. That’s a Nebraska winner!
For a more complete look at this Nebraska win, make sure to read Aaron’s recap elsewhere on Corn Nation.
Saturday — Day 5
It’s an early start Saturday morning with the Iowa Hawkeyes taking on Michigan at 9:00 a.m. The Hawkeyes are playing the best of any of the teams at this point and will be tough for the Wolverines to beat. If Michigan were to win, they will play again at 5:00 p.m.for a winner take all game. Should Iowa win, they advance to the championship game on Sunday. The same things repeats itself on the other side of the bracket at 1:00 p.m. when Maryland plays Nebraska. Should the Terrapins win, they head to the championship game. If not, grab a pillow because the two will face off again with a 9:00 p.m. scheduled start.