OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Jimmy Kerr homered for the third time in the College World Series, and Michigan beat Vanderbilt 7-4 in Game 1 of the best-of-three finals Monday night.
The Wolverines (50-20), who barely got into the NCAA Tournament after a poor finish to the regular season, are seeking the school’s first baseball championship since 1962. Ohio State is the last Big Ten school to take home the title, winning it all in 1966.
Game 2 is Tuesday night.
Kerr’s two-run shot into the right-field bleachers in the seventh inning was followed by hugs all around for his family members. Among them were grandfather John Kerr, a member of the ‘62 Wolverines, and dad Derek Kerr, who played on the 1984 team, the last one to make it to the CWS before this year.
Tommy Henry (12-5) was unflappable for a second straight start. Coming off a three-hit shutout of Florida State on June 17, he struck out eight while pitching 8 1/3 innings of seven-hit ball. Jeff Criswell got the last two outs.
Vanderbilt (57-12) spotted Michigan a 4-0 lead. But it was 4-3 after JJ Bleday, the No. 4 overall draft pick by the Miami Marlins this month, hit his nation-leading 27th homer on Henry’s first pitch of the sixth.
Kerr, a senior who went to Michigan as a walk-on, has played a huge role in his team’s improbable postseason run. He has hit seven of his 15 homers over 11 NCAA Tournament games and is batting .389 (7 for 18) in the CWS.
When the 64-team national tournament started, Caesar’s Palace sports book had Michigan listed at 200-to-1 odds to win the championship.
The Wolverines, sent to Corvallis, Oregon, as a No. 3 regional seed, staved off elimination in the first two rounds of the tournament. In the super regionals at UCLA they knocked out the No. 1 national seed. They won three straight in CWS bracket play, taking out No. 8 national seed Texas Tech, and now have their sights set on beating the No. 2 in Vandy.
With new basketball coach Juwan Howard among the Michigan fans on hand, the Wolverines came out in 1962 throwback uniforms and were serenaded by “Let’s Go Blue” chants throughout the game.
The Wolverines got off to a fast start against Drake Fellows (13-2). Big Ten player of the year Jordan Brewer doubled into the right-field corner for Michigan’s first run and came home on Blake Nelson’s base hit. Ako Thomas doubled in a run in the second, and Jesse Franklin’s groundout brought in another.
Fellows left with two on and two outs in the sixth, and left-hander Zach King worked out of the trouble before giving up Kerr’s homer the next inning.
Joe Donovan’s homer leading off the eighth against Patrick Raby put the Wolverines up 7-3.