Michigan is a bats and balls school now, it seems.
Two days after Michigan softball punched its ticket to the Women's College World Series with a sweep over Georgia in the Super Regionals, Michigan baseball punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 4-3 win over Maryland in the Big Ten Championship Game at Target Field. This is the first time that the Wolverines have won the Big Ten Tournament and will be in the NCAA Tournament since the 2008 season.
For Michigan to end its NCAA Tournament drought, the Wolverines, which were the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, needed to secure the Big Ten's auto-bid because Michigan was too far off the bubble to earn an at-large bid based on its resume. So, while Michigan had impressed with upsets against No. 21 Iowa and No. 4 Illinois -- a team that carried a 26-game winning streak into the Big Ten Tournament -- earlier this week, it all would have been for naught if they didn't take care of business against Maryland today.
Michigan's bats were kept under wraps for most of the game, but a four-run fourth inning thanks to some critical Maryland mistakes were enough to secure the win. The Wolverines put runners on the corners with no outs after a throwing error by Terrapins starting pitcher Taylor Bloom. Then, singles by Michigan's Cody Bruder and Kevin White drove in two runs with only one out on the board. The Terrapins were able to get the second out, but Maryland walked three straight batters and threw a wild pitch, which brought in two more Michigan runs, before getting out of the inning.
Michigan carried their 4-1 lead into the eighth, but that's when the Terrapins began to give Michigan a scare. With two outs, Maryland had runners on second and first base. Maryland third baseman Jose Cuas hit a rope into right field that Michigan right fielder Johnny Slater lunged at but couldn't reach. The ball went past Slater, and it seemed that Maryland would add two runs to the scoreboard with a double. However, due to a baserunning mix-up, Cuas tried to stretch his double into a triple, and a beautiful throw from Slater to the cut-off man led to Cuas being tagged out at third base before the second Terrapin baserunner could cross home plate. Thus, Michigan exited the eight inning with a 4-2 lead when Maryland should have been down by only one run with a runner on second.
Then, Michigan received an even a bigger scare in the top of the ninth inning as it tried to close out the championship win. With one out and a Maryland runner on first, the Wolverines had a chance to end it with a double play, but, after getting the force at first base, Carmen Benedetti slipped on the wet bag as he planted his foot to make the throw to second base to get the tag and the third out. The slip caused his throw to be inaccurate, so Maryland had a runner on second base with two outs. Two singles and a hit-by-pitch later, and Maryland had the bases loaded while trailing the Wolverines by only one run. But closer Jacob Cronenworth hung tough and forced Maryland's Brandon Lowe to fly out to left field for the third and Big Ten Tournament-clinching out.
And, of course, the Wolverines rushed the field to begin their jubilant celebration:
The NCAA Tournament begins this Friday, May 28th. Michigan will find out the NCAA Tournament regional in which it will participate during tomorrow's Selection Show, which will air at noon ET on ESPNU. The NCAA Tournament Regional is double elimination, with the winners of the 16 regionals advancing to the Super Regionals.