OMAHA, Neb. – North meets South. East meets Midwest. Age and experience against youth and energy.
All of these describe tomorrow’s matchup between the Michigan baseball team (47-20) and the Florida State Seminoles in the second-round winners’ bracket game of the College World Series. In many ways, the teams share a similar storyline. Both were last four teams in the NCAA tournament that dealt with some consistency issues over the course of the season, but a postseason hot streak saw both teams upsetting college baseball powerhouses – No. 8 Texas Tech and No. 5 Arkansas, respectively – in their first-round contests Friday.
The story of tomorrow’s game, though, will lie in the differences between the two teams. Michigan is an upstart team out of a conference not usually known for baseball. In the mean time, Florida State has been a regular contender in the College World Series – this is their fifth appearance in the tournament in the last ten years – out of an ACC packed with baseball talent, including fellow College World Series contender Louisville. Where Michigan has youth – coach Erik Bakich, now in his seventh season at the helm, is just 41 – Florida State has experience as coach Mike Martin, at 75, is wrapping up his 40th season in charge of the Seminoles and has brought them to Omaha for the 17th time in his tenure.
“I admire none more than the greatest of all time in Coach Martin,” Bakich said in a press conference on Friday. “Just to be up here at the table with him is something I’ll never forget. Certainly appreciate it, and don’t take it for granted.”
Bakich will throw left-hander Tommy Henry against a formidable Seminole batting order that has totaled 81 home runs on the year so far. Especially intimidating will be shortstop Mike Salvatore, who leads the team in batting average and slugging percentage, and third baseman Drew Mendoza, who has 17 homers to his name. Salvatore and Mendoza hit first and third, respectively, so Florida State will likely come out swinging.
Michigan’s game plan tomorrow will be to match that aggression from the mound. Henry comes off a gutsy seven-inning, flu-ridden performance in the Wolverines’ eventual game three victory over No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional, and if all goes according to plan, the junior southpaw will be throwing lots of strikes out of the gate.
“We’re going to have to do a good job of getting ahead in the count,” pitching coach Chris Fetter said. “That’s going to be crucial to tomorrow’s game: getting ahead and then being able to throw off speed in reverse counts, to be able to execute, throw all three pitches for strikes. That’s something that Tommy has shown he can do, and that’s the game plan: to be able to throw all three pitches at any point in the count and go right after them.”
Offensively, the Seminoles’ pitchers present a tempting opportunity for a Michigan lineup that has been hot as of late. Their team leader in earned run average – CJ Van Eyck, who the Wolverines will face tomorrow – clocks in at 3.80.
So tomorrow, expect the Wolverines to do what they’ve done all postseason: come out swinging. Bakich has emphasized playing “free and loose” as of late, especially in the postseason, and it’s resulted in the team hitting hard and often.
“It’s just kind of, like, screw it – we’ve got nothing to lose,” Bakich said. “We might as well play well, and be loose, and have some fun playing ball. When you’re loose, and you’re having fun, you have the freedom to go out and feel like you’re a kid on a playground.
“You’re not overthinking your mechanics on the jungle gym. You’re just swinging. And that’s what these guys are doing: they’re having fun, and they’re getting after it, playing hard, and they’re going to pin their ears back and go fast.”