OMAHA, Neb — On Friday, Texas Tech will be playing Michigan for the fifth time this season. The Wolverine lineup will be staring down Micah Dallas for the third time this year and the second in a week. Karl Kauffmann will be playing the explosive Red Raider offense for the third time this year and the second time this week.
So it's safe to say the two teams know each other well.
But it’s baseball, and teams are always changing — even ones you played six days ago.
Texas Tech brings back a key player they were missing: Gabe Holt, who was injured when the two played on Saturday. Holt brings a jolt of speed to a Red Raider lineup — he has 10 more steals than any other player on the roster and is their usual leadoff hitter.
“It’s just a speed threat for them, a guy that finds a way to put the bat on the wall and use the speed as a weapon,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He’s just a catalyst for them, a playmaker. We’ll do our best to try and keep them off base, he’s just a constant speed threat.”
“If there’s one thing that we would probably say, we’ll take our team with our backs against the wall any day of the week, and we like our guys,” said Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock after the loss to Michigan.
Texas Tech is ready to fight, tooth and nail, to stay alive. Dallas is ready to prove himself after a dismal three-inning appearance Saturday.
“There's nobody that feels worse than (Dallas) right now,” Bakich said. “He takes it upon his shoulders to go out and pitch into the sixth or seventh inning every time, and he's done that quite a bit. He just had a bad day, and Michigan had a really good day.”
For the Wolverines, it all rests on one thing: their defense.
Kauffmann will pitch to contact and the Red Raiders have had nine hits in each of their three games in Omaha. On Saturday, having the ball in the defense’s hands worked in Michigan’s favor.
“Having Ako up the middle, Blomgren playing with a broken finger, Nelly over there doing his thing, and the outfield play has been phenomenal,” Kauffmann said. “That’s allowed me to — we talk about getting deep into games, those guys are what allow me to get deep into games.”
Added Tadlock: “They really played better defense today. I mean, when we played them at home in the regular season, they kicked the ball around quite a bit behind Henry and Kauffmann and Criswell. They didn’t give us any free outs today. We had to earn everything we got, and they played about as good a defense as you're going to play today.”
In Lubbock, the Wolverines managed eight errors in three games, nine unearned runs.
Every so often, the Michigan defense will have a bad day — five errors in game two of the Super Regional, four errors against Indiana, and many more games like that sprinkled throughout the season.
“We’ve learned our lesson looking ahead,” Bakich said. “‘If we beat Creighton this game, we’re one inning away from going to a Super Regional’ and we end up blowing a ninth inning lead. Same thing, just looking ahead in game 2 of the Super regional. Five errors after the eighth inning, looking ahead to the World Series.”
Nothing is guaranteed. If Texas Tech beat Michigan in three straight games before, it can win two straight now.
But again, the Wolverines are a different team.