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After a miraculous two-week stretch that saw the Michigan baseball team play its way into — and subsequently win — the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines enter their third consecutive NCAA Regional on a hot streak few other teams in the NCAA Tournament can match.

The staying power of that streak will be put to the test this weekend in Louisville, as Michigan faces off against familiar and unfamiliar foes alike in it’s bid to get back to the College World Series for the first time since 2019. 

No. 1 Louisville

Record: 38-18-1 overall, 18-11-1 ACC

Conference regular season finish: Second (Atlantic Division championship)

Conference tournament finish: Eliminated in pool play 

The Cardinals are an intriguing team. 

There’s little doubt that they are one of the best teams in college baseball this season, bolstering a top-20 RPI and a consensus top-10 ranking across (all?) major polls. Their recent history, however, is a question mark — having failed to advance out of pool play in the ACC Tournament after back-to-back losses against Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.

While Louisville wasn’t the only top ACC team to stumble in pool play this year, it will likely have questions to answer entering its seventh home regional in nine seasons. 

The Cardinals’ biggest concern will be the performance of their pitching staff — something that looks like a common thread among all the teams in this regional. Though there are individual standouts in the rotation in left-hander Michael Prosecky and right-hander Jared Poland, as a team Louisville has struggled to keep scores low, posting a team ERA over 5.00.

The danger when facing the Cardinals comes in their explosive offense. Of their nine qualified batters, only one has a batting average below .280, while three average more than .330. Particularly lethal is catcher Dalton Rushing, who slashes at .310/.473/.701 and has mashed 21 home runs this season.

While the other teams in the regional are strangers to Michigan, Louisville is a team that the Wolverines know well, having played in mid-March. In that series, Louisville won after three wildly different outcomes; a close game, followed by alternating blowouts.

No. 2 Oregon

Record: 35-23 overall, 18-12 Pac-12

Conference regular season finish: Fourth

Conference tournament finish: Eliminated in first round

Much like Louisville, the Ducks are looking to right the ship coming off a poor conference tournament performance. 

After finishing their regular season winning five straight games — four of which came against ranked opponents — Oregon subsequently was swept out of the Pac-12 Tournament by two of the teams it had just beaten.

This hot-and-cold play has been a defining trait of the Ducks, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re a team constantly tinkering with the lineup and pitching staff — having the fewest qualified batters and the second most qualified pitchers of any team in Louisville this weekend.

The most intriguing piece of the lineup for Oregon comes in second baseman Drew Crowley. Despite missing five weeks in the middle of the season with a broken hamate bone, Crowley has been one of the Ducks’ most consistent batters, entering the regional with a 10-game hit streak and a slash line of .423/.620/.509. 

While a limited sample size likely inflates those numbers to some extent, Crowley will be a dangerous batter to face for any opposing pitcher.

Also of note is the Ducks’ Big Ten connections. while Michigan doesn’t know Oregon well this season, Ducks’ coach Mark Wasikowski certainly knows Michigan. Prior to taking the job in Eugene, Wasikowski was head coach of Purdue, who in seven matchups with the Wolverines won four games, including a series sweep in 2018.

No. 4 Southeast Missouri State

Record: 37-20 overall, 16-8 Ohio Valley Conference

Conference regular season finish: Second

Conference tournament finish: Champion

The Redhawks are the wild card of the regional, entering as the only team to not come from a Power Five conference. Had it not been for an OVC Tournament upset over top-seeded Belmont, it’s likely they wouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament at all.

In their five games against P5 competition this season, the Redhawks went 1-4, and they were outscored by a 42-25 run margin The bulk of those 25 runs scored, however, came against a tournament team via a blowout, 13-3 victory over Ole Miss in Oxford.

In the rest of its schedule, Southeast Missouri State was high powered to a point in its offense, posting four different batters with an OPS above 1.000. The star hitters of the team are infielder Tyler Wilber and catcher Andrew Keck, tied for the team lead in batting average and virtually identical in home run and RBI totals.

Beyond their top four hitters though, the drop-off in numbers is eye popping Just one other qualified batter posts a batting average above .250, while two find themselves toeing the Mendoza line of .200.

A similar picture to their opponents plays out for the Redhawks’ pitching. While three pitchers hold a sub-3.00 ERA, the majority of their staff has an ERA higher than 6.00, a significant contributor to the team’s 5.59 average as a group.

While Michigan has faced an uphill climb to get to this point, the road is just getting started. Winning the Louisville Regional will be a true challenge of the Wolverines’ roster in all three facets of the game.