After the Michigan baseball team crumbled on national television during last Monday’s super regional elimination game against Oregon State, it was easy to say the Wolverines obviously weren’t one of the best eight teams in the nation. But they didn’t lose their shot at the College World Series because they were inexperienced, playing on the road or because they simply weren’t good enough.
Michigan’s chances of going to Omaha came down to two plays. As soon as Oregon State rightfielder Scott Santschi walked in the top of the ninth inning, and pinch runner Braden Wells scored two batters later on a single to left, the series was over.
One hit, one run. That’s all it took to nullify a no-hit bid, cool a hot streak and end the Wolverines’ season.
“It was just crazy that they won that game, with the way (sophomore Zach Putnam) pitched and the way we got more hits than they did,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “That was about as good as it gets. If we played that same game, 9 of out 10 games, we’re going to win that game.”
And Oregon State’s improbable victory – winning a game with just one hit – had little to do with the Wolverines’ talent level or their status as NCAA Tournament underdogs. But sometimes, baseball involves chance. “It’s baseball,” Maloney always says when asked about an odd hit or a close game. Anything can happen.
This was the Wolverines’ year, and a game that could have gone either way turned out to be their breaking point. The second game exposed a team that, after defeating the No. 1 team in the nation twice and staying neck-and-neck with the defending champions through eight innings, had lost its momentum and finally gone cold.
But if the first game had been won by the Wolverines, the underdogs with no super regional experience, would they be playing with the other top seven teams in the country?
“I think the whole series would have been different,” Maloney said. “I really think we would have been in Omaha.”
Along with finishing 2-1 against No. 1 Vanderbilt – the team Maloney still described as “truly the No. 1 team” in the country despite its regional loss to his Wolverines – Michigan also defeated College World Series team Mississippi State earlier in the season. The Wolverines obviously proved they could play with, and were, one of the best.
And one game of bad ball, on the heels of an unlikely first game loss, doesn’t mean that the Wolverines couldn’t have competed in Omaha.
“It’s just one of those weekends where there’s really no explanation for what happens, but we just didn’t get the job done,” junior leftfielder Derek VanBuskirk said. “We definitely believed that we had the right group of guys. . Nobody was coming into this just for the experience in the super regionals. We believed we could win.”
And the Michigan team that was expected to be just mediocre this postseason didn’t lose because of its youth, playing on the road or lack of talent. Those aren’t excuses – there are none.
It’s baseball. Anything can happen.
And that’s the only reason the Wolverines aren’t in Omaha.