The selection show was projected on a screen for all gathered around to see. Upon seeing their school name put into a bracket slot, the Michigan baseball players erupted in a cheer.
Some jumped to their feet in joy while others looked around for recipients to their high-fives, because the Wolverines were one of the last four teams into the NCAA Tournament after a turbulent end to their season jeopardized their spot. Though a long shot, it was a chance for a shot at the title, and a chance was all they needed.
Twelve games later, one of the last teams in was poised to be the “last one out.”
But that title eluded them after a meltdown in game three of the College World Series finals. And it all originated from the game-changing third inning. That’s not to say Michigan would have won if it had given up zero runs at the bottom of the third, but with a 1-1 game at that point, the team was one out from keeping it that way.
In a game where the Wolverines could only muster two runs, the third inning collapse defined the game. By the end of it, all of the smiles and jubilance from the Wolverines’ dugout were traded for grim looks and sighs.
“I just think that Vanderbilt got 5 two-out RBIs tonight,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We’ve been doing that all postseason and they did that tonight.”
Karl Kauffman had pitched two innings. Despite allowing a home run in the second inning, the junior right-hander looked steady on the mound. He started the third as he had finished the second — with a strikeout. A groundout to third base all but reaffirmed that Kauffman had recollected himself after allowing the dinger.
Then it came — the breakdown.
Three pitches outside, one pitch too low; Kauffman dealt a 4-0 walk. A single down the middle off an 0-2 count escalated the situation. A strike would have ended it, shutting down the threat. Instead, the Wolverines put a runner in scoring position, prolonging the chance for the Commodores to take the lead. And after two more walks, they did.
“We issued a couple too many free passes,” Bakich said, “especially with two outs, and then they capitalized and got the big two out hit.”
Kauffman walked Vanderbilt’s Philip Clarke to load the bases, sparking three teammates to trot down the warning track. It was time to heat up the bullpen. A second walk ended the stalemate. The Commodores were in control and now led, 2-1, only for the very next pitch thrown to be hit down the middle and widen the gap, 4-1.
A prompt visit from sophomore catcher Joe Donovan and a popout in the next at-bat stopped the bleeding. But the damage was done.
It boiled down to one out. They were one out from ending the third inning threat, one out from keeping Vanderbilt from taking the lead, one out from potentially being the last one out — the College World Series champions.
“They just played better than us tonight,” Bakich said. “That’s why they’re the champs,”