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. They sneaked into the 64-team NCAA Tournament with one of the last four at-large bids.
“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 where 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 came 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.
Tech missing Holt
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.
Michigan, a No. 3 regional seed and one of the last four teams awarded at-large bids for the 64-team NCAA Tournament, plays a Bracket 1 winners’ game Monday night against the winner of the Saturday night game between Florida State and Arkansas.
Texas Tech meets the Florida State-Arkansas loser on Monday.