COLUMBUS Despite Michigan holding the sixth and lowest seed in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines had reason to believe they could win the postseason tournament that concluded yesterday.
After all, the Wolverines won the tournament in 1999 at Ohio State with the lowest seed. This year, though, Michigan had to settle for runner-up after losing to third-seeded Minnesota 3-2 yesterday in the championship game.
Michigan lost in its first game to Ohio State, but Minnesota had not yet lost in the double-elimination tournament.
Michigan turned to freshman Jim Brauer against the Golden Gophers. Brauer came into the game with a less than impressive 3-2 record and a 6.44 ERA, but lasted 6.2 innings while allowing three runs, just one of which was earned.
The Gophers were shut out until the sixth inning when Jason Kennedy homered off Brauer to cut the deficit to 2-1. In next inning, Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs on a single and two bunts. Michigan then turned a double play but Scott Welch scored from third to even the game at 2-2. The next batter, Sam Steidl, drove in the eventual game-winning run on an infield single to shortstop Bill LaRosa.
Michigan had taken the lead in the third inning when LaRosa scored on a wild pitch by Minnesota pitcher Ben Birk with the bases loaded. The bases were reloaded for the Wolverines after Jordan Cantalamessa walked. But Michigan stranded all three runners when Nate Wright grounded out to firstbase.
Gino Lollio added his fourth homerun of the year in the fourth inning to stretch the lead to 2-0. That was the last time Michigan would score.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, with men on first and third with two outs, Minnesota pitcher Ben Birk made an amazing catch on a line drive hit to the mound by catcher Jake Fox. Birk, who was out for most of the year after being hit in the face on a similar line drive against Miami, stopped the tying run from scoring and ended the inning with his cat-like reflexes.
Earlier in the day, Michigan earned the right to play Minnesota by beating fourth seed Penn. St. 10-2. The Wolverines scored in bunches, including a three run first inning blast by Brock Koman, his 14th homerun of the year.
Michigan added two more runs in the fifth inning and had a five-run seventh inning to route the Nittany Lions. Rich Hill lasted 7.2 innings and gave up only three hits on the day.
Michigan also eliminated second seed Purdue by a score of 10-2 on Thursday night, led by Scott Tousa”s two home runs and Bobby Wood”s 10 strikeout, complete-game performance.
Michigan was in danger of being eliminated in each of these games after losing their first game to top seed Ohio State 8-4 on Thursday afternoon.
The Wolverines rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the fifth inning. The Buckeyes pulled away in the seventh inning, scoring three runs off Michigan starter Bobby Korecky.
Of Ohio State”s eight runs, only five were earned thanks to four Wolverine errors.
As runner-up of the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines exceeded many people”s expectations after finishing the regular season just 26-26 and10-14 in the conference.
“We just came down with the idea that play hard, no one expects anything of us except us, and see what happens” coach Geoff Zahn said.
Tousa was happy that the Wolverines finally had some success against their conference foes.
“After the first night I think we played our kind of baseball. That”s what we needed to do all year,” Tousa said. “We showed a lot of promise and battle here at the end.”
Although they didn”t win, he also believes that Michigan proved themselves worthy of being at the tournament that they barely qualified for with two victories over the top teams in the conference.
“We”re better than a six seed and we showed that at this tournament,” Tousa said.