OMAHA, Neb — Michigan would not win the national championship. Instead, its run will be earmarked as another remarkable underdog run ruined by a perennial power.
In game three on Wednesday, the Wolverines (50-22 overall) lost to No. 2 Vanderbilt (59-12) 8-2. But the game seemed over by the fourth inning.
On short rest, Bakich went to junior right-hander Karl Kauffmann to bring home the championship. Early on, he was himself. Besides missing a pitch up high on Commodores’ Pat DeMarco, who hit it out of the park for a home run, he struck out five and was one out away from finishing his third inning.
But a walk, a single, another walk and a pitch that had the Michigan defense leaving the field but the umpire called it a ball led to a runner being walked in. His first pitch against Vanderbilt’s Stephen Scott was a two-run single, and just like that, the Wolverines were down 4-1.
“Tonight most of the damage was done with two outs, and we were just getting that big hit, and we were stringing good offense together as a team,” said Vanderbilt centerfielder Pat DeMarco. “It was team offense tonight.”
And then, similar to the first inning, the Wolverines went back to the dugout after leaving runners on base. They had the perfect opportunity to answer, to pull themselves back into the game, but when they made hard contact with the ball, it went straight to a Commodore defender.
Vanderbilt didn’t let off the gas and chased Kauffmann out of the game in the third inning after a leadoff walk, his fifth of the game. His final line was three innings-pitched, five runs, five walks, and five strikeouts.
But nor was it sophomore right hander Jeff Criswell’s night who, despite striking out the first batter he faced, eventually let in two runs in the fourth inning, putting Michigan down 6-1 heading into the fifth.
In the first inning, though, the game had a completely different picture: Ako Thomas, leading off in place of Jordan Nwogu, started the game with a single. Sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin then singled to put runners on the corners before junior right fielder Jordan Brewer brought in Thomas, and it seemed like the floodgates were open with the score at 1-0 and no outs.
“We came out on the attack,” Thomas said. “I think it was three hits in a row, scored a run first. We just didn’t execute the way we were supposed to. We were kind of on our heels the rest of the game, didn’t maximize our opportunities. But we fought our hardest out there.”
Added Commodores’ shortstop Ethan Paul: “It was the first inning and it wasn’t like there was anything to really worry about. We all trust Mason. He’s going to give us a good outing. I think I just wanted to remind him that it’s a big park. I wanted him to work down in the zone and let our defense work. We trust each other in the infield, so we wanted to make some plays for him.”
But Vanderbilt ace Mason Hickman shifted into another gear, striking out the next three batters in the lineup and setting a tone that left the Wolverine offense unable to cash in. Hickman ended the game with 10 strikeouts through six innings, walking three and allowing just one earned run.
The game fell into a rhythm after the fourth as both pitchers gained control over the game. There would be no spark and no more rallies. Senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr’s hard hit fly ball would be caught one foot short of a home run and every line drive found a defender.
Vanderbilt suffocated Michigan and at the end of the day, the Wolverines found themselves going home empty-handed.