Posted on June 5, 2007
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney just got a new haircut – and there isn’t much hair left.
That’s because of a promise he made to the Wolverines before their improbable 4-3 upset of No. 1 Vanderbilt to win their first NCAA Regional since 1984.
Maloney told his team that if it pulled off its second win over the Commodores in three days, he would completely shave his head.
And after the Wolverines exhilarating win over the top-ranked team in the country Monday, he’s done just that.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin decided he would pull out all the stops in his team’s comeback effort after the Commodores rallied from down 3-1 to tie the game. In the bottom of the eighth, NCAA Player of the Year and probable No. 1 overall pick of the upcoming MLB Draft, David Price came out of the bullpen.
The crowd of more than 3,500 Commodore fans erupted as Price took his place on the mound. And he showed what all the hype was about by quickly taking care of three straight Wolverine batters.
As the game entered extra innings, the Vanderbilt faithful jumped to their feet, practically shaking the stadium with a noise level never before seen at Hawkins Field. As the cheap seats boomed with yells of “Black!” and fans behind the dugout responded with “Gold!,” Price and the Commodores appeared destined for victory.
Enter freshman Alan Oaks and his .188 batting average and just nine hits all year.
Oaks would go on to change the course of Michigan baseball history with one swing of the bat against the best pitcher in the nation.
Maloney, made the decision to pinch hit Oaks just two pitches before the freshman stepped up to the plate. And the decision was all or nothing.
“I told him before he went out there, ‘You’re not there to get walked. You’re there to get a hit,’ ” Maloney said. “He has hit mammoth home runs in practice.”
Ahead in the count 2-0, Oaks took a swing at Price’s next fastball.
The White Lake native put the barrel on the ball and sent a shot over the wall in left center. The Wolverines exploded out of the dugout, crowding around home plate to shower Oaks with back slaps and high fives.
“I can’t really put it into words yet,” Oaks said. “I hardly even remember running the bases because the adrenaline was pumping. It’s definitely one of the greatest highlights off my baseball career, if not the highlight.
“If someone would have told me (about my game-winning homerun) before the game, I just would have looked at him and said, ‘yeah, nice joke.’ “
Michigan faced a scare in the bottom the 10th, but junior leftfielder Derek VanBuskirk’s spectacular catch near the top of the outfield wall for the second out helped earn redshirt sophomore Michael Powers the save.
The Wolverines victory prompted a bench-clearing, hat-and-glove-tossing celebration, culminating in a massive maize-and-blue dog pile on the pitcher’s mound.
Maloney’s days of running his fingers through his hair have ended, but the same can’t be said for Michigan’s season. The Wolverines will play next weekend in a best-of-three Super Regional at Oregon State. If they win that, they’ll be headed to Omaha, Neb. – and the College World Series.