OMAHA, Neb. – The phrase Revenge Tour usually brings Michigan football to mind. But lately, the term has been just as true of Michigan’s baseball team (47-20), which defeated No. 8 Texas Tech, 5-3, in the opening game of the College World Series on Saturday. In March, the Red Raiders swept the Wolverines in disheartening fashion. But when it counted, and with a chip on their shoulders, Michigan emerged triumphant.
The Wolverines got off to a quick start in the top of the first inning. After going down 0-2 to Red Raider right-hander Micah Dallas and working the count back to 3-2, sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu cracked a leadoff single off the freshman starter. He took second on a passed ball, and advanced to third on a groundout from sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin before coming home on a sacrifice fly from junior right fielder Jordan Brewer to put the Wolverines up, 1-0. Michigan wasn’t able to do any further damage – senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr grounded out to end the inning – but it was the early momentum boost the Wolverines needed facing a team that had battered them just a few months prior.
Michigan is a better team when it plays with a lead, and in the top of the third, it proved that again. Though the Wolverines didn’t get off to a promising start – Nwogu grounded into a double play after a leadoff single from senior second baseman Ako Thomas – but a single from Brewer and a walk for Jesse Franklin brought up Kerr, who drilled a two-run triple to the right-field corner and scored on a single from senior third baseman Blake Nelson to put Michigan up, 4-0.
“Guys did a great job setting the tone, and getting on base,” Kerr said. “Our two-strike approach as a team – choke up on the barrel, put it in play and make something happen, and I just got a pitch that I was able to put something in play on. We had guys on base all day, good at-bats throughout the lineup and that allowed us to get a 4-spot early.”
Texas Tech responded quickly, cutting their deficit in half in the bottom of the third on a two-run homer from second baseman Brian Klein. Junior right-hander Karl Kauffmann got out of the inning otherwise unscathed, forcing two groundouts to end the inning with the scoreboard still showing 4-2.
The Red Raiders tacked on another in the bottom of the sixth inning, as a grounder from third baseman Dru Baker scored shortstop Josh Jung to cut the Wolverines’ lead to one run as Kauffmann started to fade. Kauffmann got out of the jam with no other damage, though, with a strikeout to end the inning. He lasted through the seventh before Bakich sat him for sophomore right-hander Jeff Criswell.
The Wolverines were quick to respond. Franklin walked to lead off the top of the seventh, and after taking second on a wild pitch, he scored on a slow dribbler from Nelson that Jung mishandled, bringing the score to 5-3 for Michigan.
“The defense was good today, and the timely hitting – the two-out RBIs today, the 3-spot in the third inning, Jimmy's two-run triple followed by Blake Nelson's two-out RBI – that was the difference of the game,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Those are the types of games we've been playing a lot lately, where the margin is small and comes down to a pitch.
“Our guys did a great job. They're loose. They're confident, and they're playing aggressive.”
Kauffmann was relatively clean in his start for Michigan, allowing 3 runs on 8 hits over 7 innings. The junior right-hander has, as of late, become the backbone of this team’s pitching staff, taking over as their game 1 starter in April, a pillar amidst Tommy Henry’s inconsistency and the bullpen’s on-again, off-again struggles. Most recently, he scattered four hits over 8.1 innings of work in the Wolverines’ game 1 super-regional victory over No. 1 UCLA.
“He's a mature pitcher. He's a junior. He has advanced feel for three pitches, and he throws a ton of strikes. He didn't walk anyone today, and that's his bread and butter,” Bakich said. “He’s really leveraged that turbo-sinking-arm-side-run fastball, because it just gets off the barrel, and he generates so much ground ball contact. He's a great ground ball pitcher. And so for him to just fill up the strike zone with three pitches in any count, in any location, he's just tough to hit.”
Both teams finished off the last two innings scoreless, giving the Wolverines a crucial opening-round victory. They will next face off against either Florida State or Arkansas Monday.