Omaha, NE -- The Wolverines entered day two of the Big Ten tournament looking to add a headliner to their NCAA Regionals resume: a victory against Purdue. Quality wins have eluded Michigan throughout the 2018 season, and have kept them on the bubble despite finishing third in the Big Ten in the regular season. On Thursday, the script did not change as the Wolverines fell victim to an Evan Warden walk-off single. Michigan fell to 0-4 against Purdue, and are now a loss away from ending their Big Ten play and possibly their season. The Boilermakers will get Friday off while the Wolverines have a date with Ohio State at 3:30 Central on Friday due in no small part to a couple of costly mental errors on the Wolverines part in the final three innings.
Michigan found themselves in trouble early, after surrendering a run in the bottom of the first and then two more in the fourth. Nevertheless, the Wolverines never seemed dejected, in part to the fact that they had been making solid contact but had simply not been able to string a few hits together in the same inning. Michigan caught its break in the top of the sixth, as with two out and Dominic Clementi on first, Jesse Franklin hit a double down left field. Once Franklin slid into second, the Wolverines had two runners in scoring position and Miles Lewis was walked on a full count, loading the bases. That ended the day for Purdue Pitcher Gareth Strowe who was substituted for Bo Hofstra. On the next at bat Jordan Nwogu struck out swinging, but the catcher could not handle the pitch, which allowed Nwogu to reach first and all runners to advance, resulting in Clementi scoring Michigan’s first run of the game. Next up to bat was Brock Keener, who singled to left field, resulted in a two run RBI and a tie game. Purdue responded in the bottom of the sixth with a Skyler Hunter double to start the inning. In the following at bat, teammate Jacson McGowan sent Hunter to home with an RBI single and was tagged out at second. The inning ended uneventfully resulting in a Purdue lead through six.
The Wolverines tied up the game at four all in the top of the eighth when Jesse Franklin hit a single along the foul line in to left field and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Franklin reached third following a sacrifice bunt from Miles Lewis. With Franklin on third and two outs, Brock Keener sailed a ball just over the Boilermaker second baseman’s glove that resulted in an RBI single bringing Franklin home. Tommy Henry put Michigan in position to take a lead that same inning with a single that advanced Keener to third, but Henry was tagged out while trying to turn his single into a double. Michigan could have added some insurance had Henry stayed at first, given that the leading run would be at third. The Wolverine’s inability to add one, let alone two, runs proved costly.
The bottom of the ninth began with both teams tied at four, and Jacson McGowan striking out swinging. After that, the game took a bizarre path to a walk-off single. Purdue’s Milo Beam was walked on a wild pitch that sent Michigan catcher Brock Keener chasing the ball while Beam advanced to second standing up. Beam reached to second quickly enough that Keener didn’t bother throwing the ball once he looked up, but then all players froze as if the play had ended. The stadium seemed paused as everyone’s attention was directed to the fact that there was no Michigan player remotely near third, and eventually Beam came to his senses first and sprinted to third, in no risk of getting tagged. With that peculiar sequence of events, the game was drastically changed, with a runner on third and one out for the Boilermakers. The Wolverines would deliberately walk the next two batters in order to load the bases in the hopes of forcing a double play. Purdue’s Evan Warden gave the Wolverines a glimmer of hope that their strategy would pay off, as he sent the ball hopping across the infield, but the ball floated above the reach of the Wolverine infielders and made it into the outfield and brought Beam home, winning the game for Purdue.
In the 18 hours after suffering their fourth loss to Purdue this season, the Wolverines will have to forget their nail biting loss and move on to Ohio State. This will be no small task, given the way their best game against Purdue this season ended. It’s hard to say how much this game will impact their odds at being invited to Regionals, but in a conference with one team currently in the top 25, finishing third in the regular season and facing elimination before Sunday in Omaha probably won’t be enough to make it. Either way, the players have to learn from their mistakes on Thursday and be ready to fight for their postseason lives against rival Ohio State on friday.