OMAHA, Neb. — As the number of innings played marched closer to nine, the Michigan baseball team found itself in another close pitching duel.
The Wolverine offense was sputtering, but Tommy Henry was there to give them every chance they needed under the lights.
The junior left-hander went all nine innings for Michigan (48-20 overall, 2-0 World Series) Monday, totalling nine strikeouts in just 100 pitches en route to a 2-0 win over Florida State (42-22, 1-1).
Henry was given the benefit of playing with a lead thanks to early fireworks as sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin swung at the first pitch offered to him, launching a rocket to right field that sailed over the bullpen and into the upper deck for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
“Going into the game we weren’t necessarily thinking to swing at the first pitch or anything like that,” Franklin said. “As hitters in general we were just trying to look for fastballs early in the game to hit hard.”
Added Michigan coach Erik Bakich: “I think any team that scores first has a little bit of a confidence and a looseness about them that allows our — the freedom of being able to take chances on the bases, to employ some different types of plays, whether it be first-and-third plays or just being aggressive on the bases.”
The Seminoles attempted an answer with a leadoff double to center field in the bottom of the first. A diving Franklin couldn’t make the highlight reel catch, and Mike Salvatore was in scoring position with no one out. But their offense floundered as three straight batters were retired.
They wouldn’t get another baserunner until the fifth inning, as Henry shut down Florida State, barely breaking a sweat. Of the five batters he allowed on base, two were hit by a pitch.
“It’s easy when you can trust those guys behind you and just kind of watch them work and let them make the highlight plays,” Henry said.
When the Seminoles made contact, though, it would seem to always go to a Wolverine defender. Junior left fielder Christian practically stood still, letting fly balls nestle into his waiting glove.
“Coach Schnabel and Coach Brdar, the defensive positioning tonight I thought was fantastic, as well,” Bakich said. “It seemed like we had a lot of at ’em balls tonight and that’s because our guys were standing in the right spot.”
Seminole right-hander CJ Van Eyck countered with his own magic, striking out nine batters and stifling any momentum Michigan could gain.
“Tommy covered up a lot of mistakes offensively tonight,” Bakich said. “Not making adjustments to some tricksters out of the bullpen, the sidearm guy and then the backwards mixer lefty.”
But the Wolverines fought through their at-bats. Bullock had a nine-pitch at-bat, and the team had six at-bats with six pitches or more against Van Eyk. All the work tired him out, and Michigan found success against him again in the fifth inning as he surpassed 100 pitches.
Two straight singles from sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu and Franklin put runners on the corners with one out and the game saw its first scoring opportunity since the second inning. Van Eyck struck out junior right fielder Jordan Brewer, but senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr hit a two-out single to put the Wolverines up 2-0.
It was all that they needed with Henry on the mound.
It didn’t matter that they struck out 17 times, it didn’t matter that Bullock had to make plays in left field and it didn’t matter that Nwogu’s fifth-inning slide into third will make its rounds all over the internet.
Henry was just that good.