OMAHA, Neb. – Immediately, sparks were flying on Monday night.
Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu walked to lead off the game, quickly rounding the bases as sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin looped a single into center field. But Nwogu would get too greedy against one of the best defenses in the country, loping toward third base — where he was called out.
The sudden setback did nothing to stymy an offense riding high. Junior right fielder Jordan Brewer hit a double down the right field line, scoring Franklin and making it four games in the College World Series with a run in the first inning. Two batters later, senior third baseman Blake Nelson hit a single past diving shortstop Ethan Paul, putting the Wolverines up 2-0.
After junior left-hander Tommy Henry retired the side in the bottom of the first, Michigan (50-20 overall, 1-0 College World Series) was right back at it as it topped No. 2 Vanderbilt (57-12, 0-1), 7-4.
Two walks to start the second inning from Drake Fellows put runners on first and second, when senior second baseman Ako Thomas doubled down the left field line and scored sophomore shortstop Jack Blomgren.
Franklin grounded out for a second run in the inning and two straight two-run innings for a 4-0 lead.
“I couldn’t find the strike zone really well the first couple innings and kind of got in some hitters’ counts and predictable counts,” Fellows said. “They were just jumping on the fastball and jumping on the pitches they thought were coming in predictable counts.”
Henry couldn’t replicate his seven pitch inning during the second, allowing a single before striking out two batters. But with two outs, the Commodores’ Ty Duvall poked a single into right field, scoring Vanderbilt’s first run of the game. A passed ball through sophomore catcher Joe Donovan’s legs scored another run and Michigan’s lead was halved at 4-2.
For the next few innings the game fell into a rhythm as each of the starting pitchers gained control on the game. Henry induced ground ball after ground ball while Fellows threw six of his seven strikeouts. But in the sixth inning, Vanderbilt managed to close the gap.
After the Wolverines stranded two runners on base, the Commodores’ leading home run hitter JJ Bleday hit his 27th of the year over the right field bullpen. A throwing error from Blomgren put Pat DeMarco on first and Henry threw two straight wild pitches, inducing a mound visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter.
Henry then struck out Stephen Scott to preserve a 4-3 Michigan lead, and the Wolverines responded immediately. After Brewer legged out an infield single, senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr launched a home run to nearly the exact spot of Bleday’s blast and extend the lead to 6-3.
“A huge hit,” said Michigan head coach Erik Bakich. “A two-run home run by Jimmy Kerr when they started to get the momentum back and Fellows was settling in, and we needed that blast right there.”
The third home run of the game would come from Donovan as he made up for his mistake, sending a moon shot over the left field bullpen for a 7-3 lead.
It was more than enough for Henry, who went 8.1 innings with eight strikeouts in just 110 pitches. He showed his endurance in another game on college baseball’s biggest stage.
In likely his final appearance for Michigan, he proved his toughness: two straight wild pitches in a one-run game, and he comes back with a filthy slider for the strikeout. When staring down the face of a big second inning, he struck out Julian Infante.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. “He minimized damage when he had to. When he found himself in a little bit of trouble, he was able to negate our offense. He did a really good job. He didn’t allow many base runners, and as I said, he just kind of forced the action a little bit with his fastball and his off-speed stuff. He made it very difficult on us.”
Henry wasn’t the only Wolverines to showcase a clutch gene. Brewer prevented the beginnings of a big inning in the eighth when with one out, he gathered Ethan Paul’s single and gunned down Bleday as he attempted to advance to third.
“Honestly, like when I saw the guy rounding second base, in my head I was saying eat it, eat it, eat it, but you’ve got to trust Brewer’s arm, and he let it show,” Henry said. “So it was a huge moment, a huge momentum swing. Yeah, I owe him dinner or something.”
For a team deemed an underdog throughout the whole tournament, Michigan was simply better than the Commodores on Monday night.