Overshadowed by Jordan Poole?s buzzer beating three-pointer to carry Michigan over their Round of 32 opponent Houston was the Wolverines baseball team picking up a three of their own: a clean, three-game sweep over Bowling Green.
After shockingly dropping their home opener against Lawrence Tech, who was promptly beat by Central Michigan by a count of 14-1 later in the weekend, the Wolverines recovered with victories of 8-6, 10-7 and 5-4.
Jordan Nwogu Bursts Onto The Scene
Though he made a few appearances as a pinch runner and pinch hitter, Michigan freshman outfielder Jordan Nwogu was able to make his collegiate debut as a starter this weekend against Bowling Green.
The 6?3 native alumnus of Ann Arbor-Pioneer celebrated his birthday on March 10th, but provided the team with a big gift over the weekend. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI on Friday, 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBI on Saturday and capped it off with a 3-4 with another double and two RBI on Sunday.
For his efforts, Nwogu was honored as Big Ten Freshman of the Week. His inclusion into the lineup could not have come at a better time, as Michigan?s offense has been trudging along throughout the entirety of the season and there didn?t seem to be an end in sight after the embarrassing loss at the hands of Lawrence Tech.
While he won?t be able to maintain a batting average over .600 for the entire season, Nwogu offers upside that is hard to replicate. At 6?3, 225 pounds, Nwogu is build more like a football player than a baseball player and has the athleticism to back it up. He was offered D-1 scholarships to a number of different schools to play football, but stuck with baseball.
His blend of power and speed should be able to provide a spark all season long and his continued development will be key to getting the team back on the right track moving forward.
Benjamin Keizer Falls Back Down To Earth
Though he appeared in just three games last year, Michigan redshirt sophomore left-hander Benjamin Keizer inspired hope in many through his performance. Over two innings, Keizer struck out a pair of batters and showcased some electric stuff.
One of the top prospects in the state of Michigan in the 2015 class, the Portage, Michigan native rolled into this year looking sharp as well. In his first outing of the season, Keizer went two thirds of an inning and struck out both batters while allowing one hit.
In his second?look he went scoreless again, this time over an inning of work. During his last two appearances however, the wheels have fallen off. Against Lipscomb and Bowling Green, Keizer has pitched one inning and allowed three hits, six runs (five earned) and has walked four while striking out just two.
Last year, though he went without allowing an earned run, may have been a sign of things to come for 2018. In his 2.1 innings of work last year, Keizer walked three and showed a distinct lack of control. His four walks this year have spiked his walks per nine to 13.5, though admittedly it is a small sample size.
His fastball sits comfortably in the 90s and he pairs it well with a changeup and a slow, looping curveball, but if he?s unable to locate any of them it?s all for naught. As a former top prospect he certainly has the potential to be a positive contributor — and showed signs of it in appearances over the last two years — but it won?t be possible if he can?t find the strike zone.
Ben Dragani Could Be Building Block
While Keizer is a left-handed former top prospect that is struggling with his control, Michigan freshman Ben Dragani has been able to find his groove early on for the Wolverines. The 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin, Dragani has arguably been Michigan?s best pitcher thus far.
Regularly hitting the low 90?s with his fastball, Dragani is able to keep both left-handed and right-handed batters at bay with a wipeout slider that is nearly at a professional level. His 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings don?t jump off the page by any means, but his ability to induce weak contact helps supplement that number.
Pitchers throughout the Michigan pitching staff have struggled with control, but Dragani has walked just six over his 20 innings on the year (a sterling 2.7 walks per nine) and has seemingly gotten better each time he has taken the mound.
He opened the season in a bit of a rough way, throwing 3.2 innings against Army and Arizona while allowing four earned runs, but he?s locked it down since that point. In the 16.1 innings (four appearances) since that point, he has not allowed an earned run and has walked only four batters while striking out 13.
His first start of the season was this weekend against Bowling Green and it was far and away the peak of his collegiate career to this point. He lasted seven innings and did not allow a walk while striking out six.
Given the fact that he is left-handed, has solid control, a plus pitch in his slider and stands 6?5, 220 pounds it is probably only a matter of time before he starts garnering serious Major League interest. Until that point however, he will likely prove to be the go-to pitcher on Michigan?s staff.
The team sticks in the state of Michigan this week with a matchup against Oakland on Tuesday and Western Michigan on Wednesday before a weekend series with Michigan State. After an up and down week last week, this slate of games should be telling of who this Michigan team really is.