OMAHA, Neb. – From one of the last four in to the tournament to one of the last two standing in the College World Series championship series. Erik Bakich and the Michigan Wolverines embraced the role of underdog over the last month and seemed to thrive with their backs against the wall throughout this unprecedented postseason run. From losing in the Big Ten Tournament to nearly being eliminated from the Regionals by Creighton, the Wolverines always found a way as they made it to the championship round.
Coming into this week, Vanderbilt represented the biggest challenge Michigan would face in the postseason, and ultimately, one they could not overcome despite their best efforts. The Wolverines fell to Vanderbilt 8-2 in the College World Series Championship Game as the Commodores denied Michigan its first national championship since 1962.
The Wolverines struck early and made a statement right as the game began. Back-to-back-to-back hits from Ako Thomas, Jesse Franklin and Jordan Brewer led Michigan to a 1-0 win against Vanderbilt starting pitcher Mason Hickman before he could settle in.
Hickman and Michigan starter Karl Kauffmann highlighted a tête-à-tête between a likely future MLB draft selection in Hickman and 2019 second rounder Kauffmann. Both pitchers were matching each other through the first few innings despite Hickman allowing an early run and Kauffmann allowing a solo home run to Pat DeMarco in the second to tie things up at one.
There were some concerns about Kauffmann pitching on just four days rest and in the third, things began to unravel for the Wolverines. After striking out Julian Infante and forcing Austin Martin to ground out, Kauffmann needed just one more out to keep the game intact. What followed was three straight walks to load the bases and DeMarco returning to the plate. Kauffmann worked the count to 1-2 when umpire Perry Costello called a ball that painted the edge of the strike zone a ball. The entire Wolverine dugout was in shock that it wasn’t a called third strike. Two pitches later and DeMarco walked to first and a run walked home, Vanderbilt took its first lead of the game, and the Commodores were looking to keep adding to that advantage.
Stephen Scott stepped into the box and singled up the middle, running Vanderbilt’s lead to 4-1 as two more players in gold jerseys crossed the plate.
Kauffmann’s night came to an end after the third and Jack Criswell entered the game to try and hold Vanderbilt in place while a Michigan offense without Jordan Nwogu (leg) tried to manufacture some runs. Unfortunately, neither of those scenarios came to fruition for Erik Bakich’s team. Michigan did not plate another run the rest of the night and Criswell surrendered a pair in the fourth to make it 6-1.
Blake Nelson was able to add one more for Michigan in the eighth, an RBI double down the left field line that scored Jesse Franklin to cut the deficit to five, but the bell tolled for Michigan in the ninth when Vanderbilt shut the door. Commodores sophomore Jake Eder’s pitch was hit by Ako Thomas and caught for an out in center field by Pat DeMarco. The Vandy Boys began celebrating another national championship.
For Michigan, a College World Series Final appearance is something the Wolverines will eventually hang their hats on. Despite not bringing home the national championship, the 2019 Wolverines went further in the postseason than any Michigan team had in over fifty years. On the way, they knocked out top national seed UCLA on the Bruins home field. Michigan was the first Big Ten team to make the College World Series Championship round since Ohio State in 1966. While a number of players will graduate and some will depart to begin their professional careers, others will come back, hungry to return to Omaha and win the Championship that eluded them Wednesday night.