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Michigan started their postseason as one of the "Last Four In" and they got put into the Regional hosted by previous national champion, Oregon State, not to mention the two-seed and Big East champion, Creighton. Their path out of this Regional looked difficult to say the least.
The Big Ten has not been known for its baseball lately. The last championship won by a Big Ten team was in 1966 by Ohio State. In fact, there have only been two Big Ten teams to make a College World Series appearance in the last 35 years, Indiana in 2013 and Michigan in 1984. No one would’ve been surprised if Michigan or their conference mates didn’t turn any heads in this postseason.
Michigan turned some heads to say the least. They had a wild run through their Regional that included stellar pitching match-ups, plenty of offense, and heroics.
Being in the postseason, every team should expect a tough opponent at every turn. According to the committee, none were tougher than #1 overall seed, UCLA, which was to be Michigan’s opponent in the Los Angeles Super Regional. The Maize and Blue faithful traveled in droves to Los Angeles to watch their team take on the Bruins. You could excuse some of the fans if they had a we’re-just-happy-to-be-here attitude because their opponent was one of the best teams in the country.
However, the players and Coach Eric Bakich weren’t thinking that. In a press conference before the series began, Bakich said, “You can put our rotation up with a lot of people in the country and feel pretty good about it.” Michigan was one of just nine teams to beat UCLA this season, while the latter didn’t lose a single midweek game or a weekend series. Many people thought this would be an easy series for UCLA. The number one overall seed against a three seed and one of the “Last Four In” sounded like a no-brainer.
Both teams were prepared for a pitchers’ duel as UCLA started the Texas Rangers’ second-round draft pick, Ryan Garcia, who was 10-1 and sported a 1.44 ERA on the season. Karl Kauffmann (10-6, 2.62 ERA) started the first game for Michigan in game one of the Super Regional and dominated until the bottom of the 9th. Things got a bit hairy for Michigan in that frame when UCLA had the tying run on 3rd base and the winning run on first. Michigan fans everywhere were finally able to exhale when Jeff Criswell struck out Jack Stronach.
In game two, Michigan surprisingly only allowed five runs despite committing five errors, one of which led to the run that put UCLA ahead in the top of the 9th. The Bruins ultimately triumphed in the 12th inning, but one thing that neutral fans learned watching this game is that Michigan is never out of a game thanks to their pitching.
Game three was a back-and-forth affair and it never seemed like one team was in control. Michigan went up for good on a Jordan Nwogu two-RBI single in the top of the 5th inning. The dream was still alive for the Wolverines. They would add to their lead on a sacrifice fly by Joe Donovan that brought in Christian Bullock, who led off the inning with an all-important triple. Bullock went 2 for 3 on the day with a double in the 2nd inning.
Trying to prove their worthiness as the #1 seed, UCLA wasn’t going to go quietly. They had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Benjamin Keizer forced a ground-out to shut down the Bruins for the two-inning save and sealed the shocking upset over UCLA to send the team to Omaha for the 8th time in program history.
Michigan eventually made it to the championship series in Omaha to cap off a brilliant season that many didn't see coming, but none of that would’ve been possible without the thrilling upset of the #1 team in the country.
(For more on Michigan’s journey throughout the postseason, see this post by our own, John Peters!)
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