OMAHA, Neb. — Stage fright was no factor for a Michigan baseball program that’s in the College World Series for the first time in 35 years. The Wolverines just kept doing what they’ve been doing since the NCAA tournament started.
“Pitching, defense, timely hitting seems to be the recipe of the postseason,” coach Erik Bakich said.
The Wolverines got all three once again Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Jimmy Kerr’s first triple in two years helped build an early lead, Karl Kauffmann pitched seven strong innings and the Wolverines opened their first CWS appearance since 1984 with a 5-3 victory over Texas Tech.
The last time Michigan made it this far, a team led by future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin went 0-2. The Wolverines had lost four straight in the CWS since winning their first game in 1983.
These Wolverines (47-20) were swept in a three-game series at Texas Tech in March and were winless in seven meetings against the Red Raiders. They lost five of seven to end the regular season and lost their opener in the Big Ten tournament, which was played at TD Ameritrade.
Michigan will next face Florida State, which beat Arkansas 1-0 in the nightcap Saturday, in a Bracket 1 winners’ game Monday night. Both of Saturday’s winners were among the last four teams awarded at-large bids for the 64-team NCAA tournament.
“We didn’t win the Big Ten tournament, but it didn’t matter because we had confidence and we had belief, and once we got into the tournament, we didn’t care if we were one of the last four in or one of the first four in,” Bakich said.
Coming off a three-game super regional in which they knocked off No. 1 national seed UCLA, the Wolverines built a 4-0 lead in the third, and Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell worked out of trouble when the Red Raiders (44-19) threatened.
Michigan broke it open in the third when Kerr drove a ball just inside the right-field line into the corner for a two-out, two-run triple. The triple was Kerr’s first in 112 games since April 2017, and he went home on Blake Nelson’s single to make it 4-0.
“Guys did a great job setting the tone, getting on base, and our two-strike approach as a team — choke up on the barrel, put it in play and make something happen,” Kerr said. “I got a pitch that I was able to put something in play on. We had guys on base all day, good at-bats throughout the lineup, and that allowed us to get a four-spot early.”
Brian Klein’s second homer of the season, and first since March 10, cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom half, and the Red Raiders were within a run in the sixth on an RBI groundout after Josh Jung’s infield single and Cameron Warren’s double.
Michigan got that run back when a wild pitch and Jung’s throwing error from shortstop allowed Jesse Franklin to score.
Kauffman (11-6), the Colorado Rockies’ second-round draft pick this month, allowed three runs and eight hits and won his third straight start. He got out of potential trouble in the fifth, thanks to second baseman Ako Thomas, who robbed Dylan Neuse with a diving catch of a line drive up the middle.
Criswell, who made his first career relief appearance in super regionals, took over in the eighth and earned his second save. Texas Tech, the Big 12 champion and No. 8 national seed, had runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth when Criswell struck out Brian Klein to end the game.
Texas Tech freshman Micah Dallas’ three-inning start was his shortest of the season. Dallas (7-1) allowed four runs, three earned.
“I thought they played better than us in all phases of the game,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “Kauffmann was brilliant, their lineup was competitive and they played great defense. It really looked like a team playing at the top of its game, which they have been doing for a couple weeks. You can see how they arrived at this point.”
Michigan’s Jordan Brewer was called out for batter’s interference when Franklin attempted to steal second base in the seventh. Brewer swung at an inside fastball that handcuffed him and caused him to fall down as catcher Braxton Fulford threw to second. It didn’t appear Brewer landed outside the batter’s box. But when Michigan coach Erik Bakich came out to discuss the call, plate umpire Perry Costello told him Brewer accidentally made contact with Fulford’s leg.
“If you wouldn’t have called that, they wouldn’t have said a word,” Bakich was picked up saying on an ESPN microphone.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Costello replied.
The Red Raiders played their second game without leadoff man and right fielder Gabe Holt, who had surgery Monday for a left thumb injury. Tadlock said Holt continues to be day-to-day.
Florida State’s J.C. Flowers robs Heston Kjerstad of a home run by jumping up and making the catch while crashing into the wall.
Florida State 1, Arkansas 0
Drew Parrish limited Arkansas to five hits in eight innings and J.C. Flowers scored on a sacrifice fly in the ninth to boost Florida State.
Parrish and Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel sprinkled with outstanding defensive plays, neither team budging until the Seminoles broke through against reliever Casey Scroggins in the last inning.
The win was the sixth straight in the NCAA Tournament for Florida State (42-21), which is trying to bring retiring 40th-year coach Mike Martin his first national championship in 17 trips to the CWS.
Arkansas (46-18), which scored 30 runs in its three super regional games against Mississippi, including 14 Monday, was shut out for only the second time this season.
Parrish (8-5), the Seminoles’ left-handed ace, hadn’t made it past the fifth inning in his previous four starts. He was masterful against the Razorbacks, striking out nine and walking two and getting out of trouble every time he encountered any.
He was never better than in the eighth, when Christian Franklin doubled into the right-field corner leading off and was on third after a groundout. Still throwing 93 mph after crossing the 100-pitch threshold, Parrish struck out Casey Martin and Mike Goodheart with a pair of wicked changeups.
In the top of the ninth, Scroggins (3-1) hit Flowers with a pitch, and there were two men on base when shortstop Casey Martin scooped up Carter Smith’s chopper up the middle and tried to tag Flowers as he slid into second. The ball popped loose and Martin’s glove fell off, with Martin shaking his left hand in pain after the play.
Matt Cronin came on, and Matheu Nelson moved the runners over with a sacrifice. Flowers scored when right fielder Heston Kjerstad’s throw home on Nander De Sedas’ shallow sacrifice fly was up the third-base line. The play stood after Arkansas asked for a video review to see if Flowers left third base early.
Flowers, the Seminoles’ center fielder and closer, came on in the bottom of the ninth to earn his 13th save, but not without a little drama. Fletcher grounded to shortstop Mike Salvatore, who made a clean pickup but bobbled the ball in his right hand before firing to first, where he got Fletcher in a close play upheld on video review. A lineout and strikeout ended the game.
Campbell effectively mixed his fastball, curve, slider and changeup over his 101 pitches in seven innings and struck out 10, his fifth time in double digits this season. He’s given up two or fewer runs in seven straight starts.
It was the first 1-0 game at the CWS since Mississippi State beat Washington on the opening weekend last year.
Arkansas will meet Texas Tech in an elimination game Monday afternoon.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.