OMAHA, Neb. – The Wolverines' backs are against the wall. Their season is on the line. One game stands between glory and disappointment.
But they don't want it any other way.
After losing 4-1 Tuesday, the Michigan baseball team (51-20) will face No. 2 Vanderbilt in the deciding game of the College World Series Final on Wednesday. 27 outs are all that stand between bringing a national championship to Ann Arbor – or going home empty-handed.
The Wolverines are no strangers to situations like these. In every stage of this postseason, the final series has gone to the deciding game: first against Creighton in the regional, then against No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional, and now versus the Commodores in the finals of the College World Series.
“It only seems fitting that our team would go to three games,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “That's just kind of been our MO here, in all these rounds. We’re very comfortable in that spot. After the game, I just sensed a calmness in our team. They’re excited to play tomorrow.”
In game three of the regional, Michigan felled Creighton in a decisive 17-6 rout. Every player in the batting order reached base at least once and seven of the nine hitters notched at least one RBI on the night.
Game three of the Super Regional was a different story, as a masterful performance from a flu-ridden Tommy Henry lifted the Wolverines past the top-ranked team in the country. The junior left-hander pitched seven innings of two-run ball to carry his team to Omaha.
Now, in game three of the College World Series Finals, they face the next-best team in the country – as complete of a ballclub as any they’ve faced this season. Again, bouncing back will be the story line with this team. They did it after an 11-7 game two loss to the Blue Jays and after a disheartening 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Bruins.
But they have every certainty that they’ll be able to do it after falling to Vanderbilt, 4-1.
“I think our whole team always has confidence, no matter what happens,” said sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren. “We’ve been resilient all year. Those two guys coming in tomorrow have been great all year, so we have so much confidence in them, and it’s going to be about how bad which team wants it.”
These Wolverines want it. It’s never been a question of how much they want it – how much they want to bring a trophy back to Michigan, how much they want to prove that a cold Midwestern school can be a baseball powerhouse. Their storybook run has been characteristic to a tee: they’re playing loose and they’re having fun.
So, after a six-week run that, in the words of sophomore catcher Joe Donovan, has been “Team 153, through and through,” going to game three is the perfect way to close it out.
There’s no doubt that this Michigan team is ready.
“We've been here — we've had a lot of repetitions with these types of games,” Bakich said. “All the adversity that we've faced in the last month, month and a half, it's just callused our mind, and guys are very comfortable in these environments and in these spots.
“I told the team, it seems very fitting that this is going to come down to game three. That seems like how it should be with the story line of this particular team, with Team 153.”