Michigan baseball fans were discouraged Tuesday night when the Wolverines couldn’t wrap up the national championship, yet there is another chance tonight.
There is definitely something special about playing for a national championship and Wednesday night, in Omaha, the Michigan baseball team will do just that.
The Wolverines will actually be gunning for the championship for the second straight night. Only this time, they are also facing elimination. After winning game one, Michigan baseball put Vanderbilt in the position of needing two wins for the national title.
But with Kumar Rocker on the mound for the Commodores Tuesday, it wasn’t going to happen. Michigan head coach Erik Bakich went with a collection of bullpen arms and saved Karl Kauffmann as well as Jeff Criswell for tonight, the deciding game of the College World Series.
If Michigan wins, it will be national champions. Lose and it will another heartbreak for a group of fans all too used to having their hearts broken.
There are valid reasons to be nervous. Vanderbilt is the No. 2 seed in the tournament and they have another stellar pitcher on the mound in Mason Hickman, who is 8-0 on the season with a 2.08 ERA.
“We’re not discouraged by the loss. We know they’re a good team and we know we’re a good team. We’re ready for game three.” – Sr. Blake Nelson
— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) June 26, 2019
That’s tough but Kauffmann has also been salty in this postseason run, posting a 4-1 record in the NCAA tournament along with 2.40 ERA. Opponents are also hitting just .218 against the junior.
It will hurt not having designated hitter Jordan Nwogu, who leads the team in hits and on-base percentage.
Dominic Clementi, Riley Bertram and Miles Lewis are all options according to Zach Shaw of The Michigan Insider, which spoke to Bakich after Tuesday’s defeat.
“We’ve been in this position multiple times in the year. Nwogu has been out, Franklin has been out, Brewer has been out,” Bakich said. “So we’ve had a lot of guys step up and get opportunities. Dom could be a guy that we could run back out there, but I’m probably leaning towards a guy like Riley Bertram who’s been a spark throughout this postseason. A guy like Miles Lewis could do it and has done it all year. He’s got 200-something at-bats and 16 doubles and had a lot of clutch hits.”
Nwogu is also the Wolverines leadoff hitter, but Bakich said he wouldn’t use whoever replaced the DH in that spot, opting instead to move up everyone else one spot in the order.
“I like the flow of our lineup, so I thought would be to just bump everybody up one,” Bakich said. “We’ve had Ako shift up a time or two, but I like the order and the way it goes. So we may just bump everybody up and whoever is DHing could hit in the 9 hole.”
Michigan baseball still has weapons at the plate with guys like Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer, along with Jesse Franklin, Jimmy Kerr, Jack Blomgren and Blake Nelson. Ako Thomas will need to step up and Bertram should step into the DH role, bringing with him a .400 batting average, including 7-of-15 in the NCAA tournament.
While missing out on a chance to clinch the championship Tuesday was disappointing, Michigan has been in this position before. In the Regional, Creighton had to beat UM twice and forced a winner-take-all game that the Wolverines won. The same thing happened against UCLA.
— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) June 26, 2019
Both of those went to the final game and so Michigan isn’t going to crack just because they are facing elimination. Heck, their season was on the line against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament, when they came back and won, earning themselves a shot at another day.
Yes, Michigan sports fans feel cursed. It would be hard not to. The Wolverines haven’t won a championship in one of the four major sports: football, basketball, baseball or hockey since 1998.
Although there have been plenty of losses along the way. Michigan basketball has reached the title game four times since winning it all in 1989 and finished as the runner-up in 1992, 1993, 2013 and 2018. The Hockey team also came close with a recent Final-Four appearance but hasn’t won in two decades.
We all know about the football program. The Wolverines haven’t reached the promised land since Charles Woodson was winning the Heisman and Lloyd Carr was manning the sidelines. Jim Harbaugh has gotten Michigan to the doorstep of the College Football Playoff, but a Big Ten championship has eluded him, not to mention the national championship.
For Michigan baseball, the title drought goes back all the way to 1962. The bottom line is that there is a lot of negative history with Michigan athletics, in every major sport.
We have experienced heartache and at times, sheer agony. Tuesday night was a setback, however, it wasn’t the whole ballgame. This Michigan baseball team has plenty of fight and with one of their aces on the mound, the Wolverines have more than a fighting chance.
With the cool-headed Bakich as their head coach, they might just make history and put this cursed feeling we have as Michigan fans to rest — finally.