For Michigan on Monday, it was a statement victory. Game one of the Men’s College World Series was the Wolverines’ — the team one game away from the program’s first national championship since 1962 — after a 7-4 victory.
Still, Michigan coach Erik Bakich was not pleased.
“They know we didn't cash in on all of our scoring opportunities,” Bakich said. “We could have been better. We left a lot of runners on base and had runners in scoring position with less than two outs and didn't get the job done. Didn't move runners when we could have. We didn't play as well as we could have.”
Michigan left 12 runners on base with 14 hits and 6 walks. Monday, it just seemed that the clutch two-out RBIs they had Friday against Texas Tech weren’t happening.
In the fourth inning, the Wolverines led off the inning with two straight singles and a great chance to immediately respond to Vanderbilt. Instead, after a sacrifice bunt from senior second baseman Ako Thomas, the top of the lineup grounded out to keep the Commodores in the game.
In the sixth inning, right before Vanderbilt would hit a home run to bring the game within one, Michigan had two runners on with the top of the lineup up to bat again. Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu struck out.
“I thought Vanderbilt did a really good job of minimizing our scoring opportunities even though we got a lot of hits and scored seven runs,” Bakich said. “There were a lot of other opportunities where they made big pitches with runners in scoring position, and we just didn't cash in, which is why the score stayed so close.”
After Joe Donovan scored the seventh run for the Wolverines with his blast to left field, two singles and a walk loaded the bases. With only one out, Michigan’s most productive offensive player this postseason — senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr — stepped up to bat . He fouled out to the third baseman. Then senior third baseman Blake Nelson fouled out to right field.
“I had four pretty rough at-bats, so it wasn't my best day at the plate,” Kerr said, despite his two-run home run that secured the game for Michigan.
Added Bakich: “Credit to their pitching staff — elevating fastballs, burying breaking balls and just coming up with some big zeros when the game probably could have gotten a wider margin for sure, and maybe even by a lot.”
On Tuesday, when the Wolverine offense faces off against freshman phenom Kumar Rocker, those missed opportunities can’t happen if they hope to win the national championship. Especially against a right-hander who threw 19 strikeouts the last time he pitched in a win-or-go-home game.