NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Everyone told the Michigan baseball team it didn’t belong in the same Regional as top overall seed Vanderbilt.
The Wolverines had to sit idly by as a media circus “literally” followed the Commodores and their star, NCAA player of the year pitcher David Price.
But every one of the 3,500 plus black-and-gold clad Vanderbilt enthusiasts that packed into Hawkins Field were surprised to see that their Commodores were not the squad that took control of the Nashville Regional.
The Wolverines, guided by big bats and inspired pitching, fought their way to a 10-7 win over Memphis and a nail-biting 4-3 victory over Vanderbilt before finally succumbing to the Commodores, the nation’s top-ranked team, Sunday night 10-7.
With a win last night, Michigan could have secured its first Regional championship since 1984 and a spot in a Super Regional next weekend. Instead, the Wolverines will square off with Vanderbilt again tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Since both teams already have a loss in the double-elimination tournament, the Regional title will go to whichever wins the game.
Last night, Michigan’s struggles began early when senior pitcher Andrew Hess couldn’t close out the second inning. The Commodore offense exploded for a seven-hit, seven-run inning, led by junior Brad French’s two-RBI single that dropped into shallow centerfield. All seven runs were scored before a single out was tallied by the Michigan defense.
Sophomore Ben Jenzen’s relieving Hess in the second inning was the start of a wild pitching carousel for the Wolverines, who used four pitchers in total. Freshman Eric Katzman, who had not thrown a pitch in a game in 25 days, was sent to the mound to replace Jenzen in the sixth, and freshman Alan Oaks, who had pitched just a third of an inning in his entire career, was called upon to close out the game.
The shaky pitching opened opportunities for Vanderbilt all game long. In total, the Wolverines allowed 10 hits, 10 walks and hit two batters.
“You can’t beat the No. 1 team in the country like that,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “You give that up and you don’t deserve to win. I mean, we’re lucky . this thing could’ve ended up having a football score.”
If the Wolverines want to give themselves a chance in tonight’s contest, their starting pitching will be key. Vanderbilt’s bullpen is extremely deep, and Michigan will need its starting pitcher – most likely sophomore Chris Fetter – to throw plenty of pitches to combat the Commodores’ depth.
“At this point in the season, you go with what you think in your heart is the best lineup to win,” Maloney said. “We’ll put out the best nine guys we have. We’ll throw the best pitchers we have (tomorrow). It’s about guys making plays. At this point in the season it’s all about whose star is going to shine.”
Michigan will have plenty of motivation to get up for tomorrow’s game. The Wolverines will be playing for their tournament lives. A win rewards them with a Super Regional berth, a loss sends them back to Ann Arbor, their season completed.