OMAHA, Neb. – Every Michigan fan has heard it (though The Daily disproved it): John Beilein was never an assistant coach.
This is not the case for Erik Bakich.
The head coach of Michigan’s baseball team spent seven seasons, from 2003 to 2009, as an assistant under Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. He spent one more season under Corbin as a volunteer assistant at Clemson in 2002.
Bakich counts Corbin among his closest friends and most influential mentors.
“He’s someone I consider family,” Bakich said. “We haven’t played each other since I left, and I don’t know if there could be a better scenario than this.
“I’ve learned everything from him – not just baseball, but how to be a good husband, a good father. I don’t know if there’s a higher level of respect for us to match up this way for the first time.”
Now, Corbin – and the program that he’s continued to grow in Nashville – are the only thing standing between Bakich and Michigan’s first national championship in baseball since 1962.
The Commodores will be the Wolverines’ toughest challenge of the season – even in a season where they had to get through No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional and play a tough Texas Tech team, which had steamrolled them in a three-game sweep in March, to get to the final of the College World Series.
Vanderbilt’s lineup is stacked, one through nine. Its leadoff hitter, third baseman Austin Martin, leads the team in batting average at .406 on the season – certainly a tall prospect for junior left-hander Tommy Henry, Bakich’s game 1 starter, to face out of the gate. Its three- and four-hole hitters are no less intimidating at .316 and .301, respectively, and the bottom of the Commodores’ lineup is nothing to laugh at, either. The eight-hole hitter, designated hitter Ty Duvall, is third on the team in on-base percentage at .427.
“There are no outs in their lineup, one through nine,” Bakich said. “They’re a very complete offense, and a very complete pitching and defensive team. We’re going to face our toughest challenge on the biggest stage.”
The Commodores’ pitching, too, presents a looming challenge. Right-handers Drake Fellows and Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt’s likely starters in games 1 and 2, will be no small task. Fellows, the projected game 1 starter, is 13-1 with 111 innings pitched this season. And Rocker, a freshman, beats him in ERA, clocking in at 3.28 over 93.1 innings pitched.
But with the Wolverines’ lineup as hot as it is right now, there might not be much that can slow Michigan down offensively. Every single player in the starting lineup reached base in Friday’s 15-3 rout of Texas Tech. Senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr and sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin have been swinging the bat particularly well in the College World Series. Kerr hit two home runs, a double, a single and batted in three runs on Friday, and Franklin crushed a towering home run out of the park on the first pitch he saw in the first inning of Michigan’s contest against Florida State Monday.
This College World Series final should prove an interesting matchup between two teams that haven’t cooled off in weeks and two coaches who are very familiar with one another. They will face off Monday and Tuesday, with a tie-breaker Wednesday to determine the champion, if necessary.
“As long as we can stay loose, and just be in the moment, and immerse ourselves in the moment, and play the way we’ve been playing – I’m expecting Vanderbilt will be the biggest challenge between the white lines with the personnel that they have, but I also really like the way that we’re playing right now,” Bakich said. “Most importantly, I like the mentality that we have that enables us to play the way that we’re playing.
“We’re going to everything that we can to prepare, and to continue to chase these celebratory moments.”