OMAHA, Neb. — Pitching has been the name of the game for Michigan since the NCAA Super Regional, where no game has been decided by more than two runs. With Karl Kauffmann, Jeff Criswell and Tommy Henry on the mound, opposing offenses are stumped.
For the Wolverines, though, their offense has gone up against walls as formidable as Michigan’s terrific trio.
“It’s the time of the year where not a lot of runs are going to be scored,” said designated hitter Jordan Nwogu. “Where everyone has the best pitching and their best stuff going.”
The drop off is dramatic; the Wolverines averaged more than seven runs a game before heading to Los Angeles. Now, they average just 3.6 runs a game.
In these tight games against college baseball’s best pitchers, Michigan players have learned to find success in smaller things — like extending at-bats.
“That’s been huge for us, even if the batter ends up getting out,” Nwogu said. “Like Christian (Bullock) struck out but he had 9, 10 pitches — that’s huge, his pitch count will go up and that helps us later to get into the bullpen, arms will get tired and to just keep making him work.
“Sac-flies, all those little things are huge right now because everybody’s pitchers are on their A-game, everybody is throwing their best guys. So I think that our approach has been fine, it’s just a matter of scratching out runs than an offensive game.”
When a lineup is as diversely talented as the Wolverines’ is, clawing out runs becomes a lot easier.
They have speed — over 100 stolen bases. And they have power — 70 home runs. They're experienced — there are no freshmen in the lineup. And they're also intelligent — 40 sacrifice flies.
“The great thing about our lineup is that on any given day there’s capable players throughout one-through-nine that can have a great day and be the difference maker in that game,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich.
Take Jesse Franklin, who’s been in the No. 2 spot for the whole year. After launching his way to team lead in home runs at 12, he couldn’t hit a ball out of the park for a month and a half before Monday. Still, Bakich kept him in the same spot.
“He’ll draw walks, move runners up, he’ll find a way to have a productive team plate appearance,” Bakich said. “He’s just a great spot in the two-hole. He’s a power threat, but he’s an on-base guy and runs the bases hard and is fast and agile.”
Franklin and the team’s versatility allows the coaches to be able to game plan for multiple conditions and teams. In Corvallis, a homer-friendly ballpark, power took over and the lineup hit eight home runs in just four games. But with heavy air from the marine layer at UCLA, home runs weren’t an option. Instead, baserunning and piecing together runs led Michigan to its first Men’s College World Series since 1984.
It’s an offense that can score at any point, by any one. For early leads or late insurance, it has scored when it needed to most this postseason.
“Personally, it feels like the type of offense we want to run every year,” Bakich said. “Where we have high on-base, high slugging, high walks and guys throughout the lineup that can not only drive the ball but run around the bases really fast.”