Last June, the Wolverines filed out of the first-base dugout down into the annals of TD Ameritrade Stadium as the entire Vanderbilt baseball program jumped and hugged around the pitcher’s mound.
The Commodores had just won the decisive third game to become national champions. Michigan left Omaha one game short of glory.
In recovering from a disappointing end to what was otherwise a positive season, the 2020 Wolverines decided to use the narrow gap between their 2019 campaign and a College World Series as motivation.
“We were one win away from being alone on the top of the mountain,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “So we reduced that ‘one more’ to one more day of training, one more inning better, one more pitch better. And then obviously the things we do in here is just one more repetition, one more weight lifting session, one more meeting, one more rep.
“We just needed to be one percent better to be the final team.”
Over the course of the offseason, Bakich sought to do everything in his power to prepare his team to return to Omaha and be one game better when they arrive.
If the Wolverines’ No. 9 preseason ranking and the relative weakness of the Big Ten left any questions as to whether Michigan would face any adversity, the tough out-of-conference schedule that Bakich set for his team has already started to answer it.
On opening weekend, the Wolverines took on two top-five teams in then-No. 1 Vanderbilt and then-No. 3 Arizona State and two impressive programs in Cal Poly and UConn.
Michigan came out of that week looking like a team that was ready to be on top of the mountain. The Wolverines went 3-1 on the weekend, leaving the two best hitters in college baseball, Arizona State junior first basemen Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt junior third baseman Austin Martin, hitless in wins against each of their respective teams. The only loss on the weekend was against UConn in a game in which the Wolverines reached so deep into their bullpen the loss appeared meaningless.
Apparently, though, it was a sign of things to come.
Michigan played the Huskies three more times last weekend, losing the series and seeing its first piece of adversity.
“I think the difference was just our level of compete,” Michigan junior shortstop Jack Blomgren said after Sunday’s 9-2 loss. “They attacked us early and came on hot, and we didn’t really answer until later on in the game. So overall, they competed harder than us today.”
Michigan can’t expect to be one game better this June if it continues to allow talented teams to outcompete it.
The efforts in the UConn series left a sour taste in many players’ mouths, but thanks to Bakich’s scheduling, the Wolverines have the opportunity to reverse this trend almost immediately.
This weekend, Michigan plays three more games against Cal Poly, heads up and down California to take on Stanford and California in single games and then goes to Pepperdine for a three-game series. While none of these programs are currently ranked, they are all highly-esteemed and highly-talented — fully capable of beating the fifth-ranked Wolverines.
To leave the next 10 days still looking like they can be one game better than last year, Michigan will need to respond to last weekend’s adversity.