Michigan Showcases Impressive Opening ActCollege World Series
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OMAHA — The message over the past week was crystal clear: Michigan reaching the College World Series was no Cinderella story.
This team is a legitimate national title contender.
Michigan put together a complete and impressive performance Saturday afternoon, as it kicked off its first CWS appearance since 1984 with a 5-3 win over a Texas Tech team and offensive lineup that can cause nightmares for opposing teams.
“Pitching, defense and timely hitting seems to be the recipe of the postseason, and I thought we got a great start from Karl Kauffmann. I thought he pitched extremely well and gave us a quality start. Outside of the home run that I thought was a good pitch — it was a breaking ball down; he just got the head out and hit it out of the park — I thought he was great and gave us everything we needed.”
There were two unknowns for Michigan entering the contest against the Red Raiders. First, the Wolverines hadn’t been on this stage in a long time. So, would they come out a little nervous and show the rustiness that new teams in the CWS often do? Also, could the Wolverines find a way to corral a Texas Tech team that not only swept them down in Lubbock earlier this season, but also outscored them 29-10?
Both of those questions were answered in impressive fashion.
While the Wolverines were new to the CWS, they weren’t new to this ballpark. As we’ve discussed on our podcasts leading up to today, Michigan had TD Ameritrade Park and atmosphere experience leading up to the CWS. In addition to playing the Big Ten tournament three weekends ago, the Wolverines faced Nebraska, which had a strong home field advantage with more than 10,000 fans in the stands. That experience gave the Wolverines a sense of familiarity and comfort going into today.
“The atmosphere was awesome. That’s the first time any of us have probably played in front of 24,000 people,” Michigan’s Jimmy Kerr said. “But I think we had a lot of familiarity. It’s helped us a lot to play the Big Ten tournament here, and especially facing Nebraska twice in that tournament with a lot of Nebraska fans showing out.
“So, we know what it’s like to be in this stadium,” he continued. “We know what it’s like to be in a hostile environment here, so I think that’s prepared us for this week.”
Michigan also was well prepared for Texas Tech.
It wasn’t pretty the last time these two teams met. Not only did the Red Raiders put up a lot of runs on Michigan’s pitching staff, they also tamed the Wolverines’ offense. For instance, Saturday’s Tech starter, freshman righthander Micah Dallas has been outstanding down the stretch, and was good against Michigan earlier this season. He struck out seven and allowed just one run and three hits in five innings against the Wolverines back in March. Today, Dallas allowed four runs on six hits in just three innings, as Michigan scored a run in the first and three more in the third inning with a two-run triple from Kerr and an RBI single from Blake Nelson.
“His stuff wasn’t quite where it has been. I want to say the fastball was a tick down, probably, and he didn’t have his best stuff,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “He’s been a guy that when he doesn’t have that, he’s been able to pitch through things. Give Michigan credit for that.
“We wouldn’t be here without Micah Dallas. There’s nobody that feels worse than Micah right now,” he continued. “He takes it upon his shoulders to go out and pitch into the sixth of seventh inning every time, and he’s done that quite a bit. He just had a bad day, and Michigan had a good day.”
While Dallas dominated the Wolverines earlier this season and struggled in the CWS opener, the opposite occurred for Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann. When the two teams met back in March, Kauffman had a rough day in Lubbock, allowing six runs on nine hits in five innings. But in this meeting, just like he’s done every step of the way this postseason, Kauffmann put together a strong start to help guide the Wolverines to victory.
Kauffman’s previous two starts in the postseason were brilliant. He struck out seven and allowed just six hits in 8.2 shutout innings against Creighton before allowing two runs and four hits in 8.1 innings against powerful UCLA last weekend. Today, he never let the usually hard-hitting Red Raiders get into a groove.
“First off, that’s a really good lineup they’ve got over there … 1 through 9,” Kauffmann said. “Speed, power and very well balanced. After we played them in March, we learned and came out here with the approach we had to minimize their opportunities and just limit the mistakes.
“Even today, they made me pay for every mistake that I had,” he continued. “So, just minimize their opportunities and just go right after them and let the defense work. And it was nice having to jump out to that 4-0 lead, too. I’m never going to complain with that.”
Kauffmann allowed a runner to reach base in each of the first two innings but escaped trouble in both frames. Tech’s Brian Klein hit a two-run home run in the third, but Kauffman settled back into a groove after that. Kauffmann sat in the low-90s with his fastball, while also showcasing a quality slider that he kept at the bottom of the zone.
The righty had easy fourth and fifth innings before navigating through a huge moment in the sixth. Texas Tech’s Josh Jung and Cam Warren led off the inning with hits, and the Red Raiders finally seemed to be in business. But Kauffmann wouldn’t back down. He proceeded to end the inning unscathed after getting a pair of ground outs striking out Kurt Wilson.
“I thought they played better than us in all phases of the game, and I thought Kauffmann was brilliant,” Tadlock said. “I mean, it really looked like a team that’s playing at the top of their game, which I’m sure they needed to be doing and have been doing for a couple of weeks now. You can see how they’ve arrived at this point.
“Kauffmann was tough,” he added. “He’s a guy that is mixing in fastball counts some and just did a really, really good job.”
With yet another terrific start by Kauffmann, the Wolverines junior righthander has now allowed just seven runs in his last 32 innings of work during the most important part of the season.
“Well, he’s a mature pitcher. He’s a junior, but he has advanced feel for three pitches. He throws a ton of strikes. He didn’t walk anyone today and that’s his bread and butter,” Bakich said. “You know, early in his career, he was more enamored with trying to get more velocity and now he has really leveraged that turbo-sinking-armside-run fastball because it just gets off the barrel and he generates so much ground ball contact. That’s why the Rockies drafted him. He’s a great ground ball pitcher.”
“For him to fill up the strike zone with three pitches in any count, in any location, he’s just tough to hit, especially with the ball moving that much,” he continued. “He’s just been dialed in, and he and Coach Fetter have put together a really nice pitch plan, and it’s a mature guy who’s able to execute it, and he’s been a huge spark for us the past few weeks.”
Who knows how Michigan’s road through the CWS will go after today’s game? The Wolverines might win, and they could lose, too. But for a program that hadn’t been here since the 1980s, the Wolverines looked like a group of seasoned Omaha veterans. They also aren’t taking many chances, throwing fellow starting pitcher Jeff Criswell out of the bullpen in place of Kauffmann, while also having another starter, Tommy Henry, in the bullpen as Criswell closed out the game.
It’s just one game, but what an opening act it was for Michigan. It might just be here for the long haul.