After an underdog run throughout the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan baseball team is heading to the Louisville Regional.
The Wolverines came into the Big Ten Tournament as a five-seed and had to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament after a mediocre season going 28-25 overall and 12-12 in Big Ten play. In front of them all season were the Terrapins and the Scarlet Knights, who finished the regular season with 44 and 41 wins, respectively. Nonetheless, Michigan coach Erik Bakich prepared the Wolverines for big games as they defeated both of the top seeds to win the Big Ten Championship.
“I think our program is at a point where we should win the championship every year and we’ve been on top the last few years,” Bakich said in a preseason press conference. “The trials and tribulations, the ups and downs and the adversity of getting knocked down and getting back up so many times. They just have the presence of mind to know what it takes to get there.”
This mentality gave Michigan its first Big Ten Championship since 2008.
Its regional this upcoming weekend showcases opponents Oregon, Southeast Missouri State and No. 12 Louisville. It will consist of a double-elimination format in which one of the four teams will make it to the Super Regional.
While the Wolverines did not play an out-of-conference opponent until the NCAA Tournament last season, Bakich made sure to get plenty of non-conference opponents for Michigan this season, which makes a difference in preparation.
One of these teams was the Cardinals.
Louisville finished the regular season 38-18-1. However, it lost both of its games in the ACC tournament to Pitt and Georgia Tech, ultimately leaving the conference tournament with an early exit. For the Wolverines, they played the Cardinals in a three game series this season where they lost two of three.
In that series back before Michigan was playing home games, the Wolverines scored 20 runs combined in three games against Louisville. Unfortunately for Michigan, however, 16 of those runs came in one game, and the offense struggled in the remaining two. This dynamic led the Wolverines to a 1-2 record against the Cardinals over the weekend.
Nonetheless, this familiarity could prove to benefit the Wolverines.
Michigan is a very different team from where they were at the beginning of the season. Not to mention, it is winning a lot while the Cardinals are not. But first, the Wolverines have to play Oregon on Friday.
The Ducks finished its season 35-23 and have notable wins over No. 2 Stanford, Gonzaga and Arizona. However, they also lost both of their games in the PAC-12 Tournament and got swept by PAC-12 powerhouses UCLA and Oregon State.
While Michigan made the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons, it had drastically different outcomes. In 2019, the Wolverines made it to the championship series and lost to Vanderbilt. Last season, they got knocked out in the first round by Notre Dame.
“Once you once you taste the pinnacle and you’ve reached the mountaintop, you’re instantly addicted,” Bakich said in a preseason interview. “All of the freshmen that were on our team in 2019 are now seniors and they’re addicted too. They know what it feels like to spend 15 days in the World Series and to come so close to holding up the trophy with the gold rims. So I think for them, they absolutely are going to do whatever it takes to get back there.”