The Michigan baseball team was in a familiar position against a familiar foe.
Trailing 2-1 to No. 1 UCLA in the fifth inning, they sorely needed some clutch hitting.
Junior outfielder Christian Bullock opened the fifth inning with a walk and then stole second base. Blomgren hit a single, allowing Bullock to advance to third. The Wolverines then turned near-calamity into opportunity. As Blomgren was inches away from being picked off at first, he avoided the tag and beat the failed rundown attempt to advance to second.
And with runners in scoring position, Ako Thomas delivered.
The senior infielder drilled a two-RBI ground-ball single to retake the lead for Michigan, 3-2.
The Wolverines added one more run and were able to hold off the Bruins for the third time this season, winning 4-2 to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 1984.
Michigan opened the scoring in the top of the second inning. Senior infielder Blake Nelson was walked and junior outfielder Christian Bullock smashed a double down the first base line to advance Nelson to third. Sophomore infielder Jack Blomgren stepped up and delivered a ground ball allowing Nelson to score.
The Bruins weren’t daunted. In the bottom of the second, outfielder Jake Pries launched a solo home run to left-center on the third pitch of the inning to tie the game at 1-1. UCLA broke the deadlock in the third inning. The score was set up by an untimely slip and fall by junior outfielder Jordan Brewer in right field allowing the fly ball to get past him and the batter to reach third. A ground ball to the shortstop allowed the runner on third to cross home plate.
The Wolverines’ defensive issues continued from Saturday and nearly caused a disaster in the fourth inning. With two outs and a Bruins runner on first, a ground ball came to Nelson who bobbled the ball, then rushed the throw to first airmailing senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr. Kerr hustled to get the ball and fired a throw to home plate where sophomore catcher Joe Donovan applied the tag to the diving UCLA runner to get the out.
The Michigan offense sputtered after the early innings, in a game that was eerily reminiscent of Saturday’s contest. This time, however, they received an insurance run in the top of the ninth to extend the lead to 4-2.
Bullock crushed a ball into left-center over the heads of the outfielders and used his speed to stretch it into a triple. A sac-fly from Donovan sent Bullock home. Bullock went two for three, stole a base and scored twice; an incredible bounce-back game after a forgettable Saturday where a costly error allowed UCLA to score a crucial run.
Tommy Henry did his part for the Wolverines. The junior left-hander was fighting an illness and pitched seven innings, giving up only two runs while striking out six. Innings four through seven, Henry was rock-solid allowing no runs and coming up with clutch outs when the Bruins were threatening.
Redshirt junior left-hander Benjamin Keizer replaced Henry. Keizer went 1-2-3 in the eighth but ran into some adversity in the bottom of the ninth. He allowed a single and then hit the very next batter before a pop-fly and a ground ball ended the Bruins’ comeback bid.
It was a gutsy performance from Keizer and the entire team, sending the Wolverines to their first College World Series in 35 years.