The Wolverine

August 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2019 BY CHRIS BALAS A nyone who watches col- lege baseball even casually knows how hard it is for a team north of the Mason- Dixon Line to compete. The sport is dominated by southern and western teams that can play year-round, tak- ing advantage of the obvious advan- tages the weather provides. But much like Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, baseball head coach Erik Bakich doesn't subscribe to a no-win scenario. The numbers are against both programs — only one Big Ten program (Indiana, 2013) had even made the College World Series since the Wolverines were last there in 1984 — but Bakich led his team not only to Omaha, but also to the brink of a national championship. Michigan won the Oregon State Regional, beat No. 1 UCLA on its home field by winning two of three games in the Los Angeles Super Re- gional and blew through the first three games in Omaha to reach the championship series, capturing the first contest against powerful Vanderbilt before dropping the next two to finish as national runner-up. The incredible run makes Bakich's crew The Wolverine's Male Team of the Year for Michigan athletics for the first time ever. To Bakich, though, this was only the first step of what he's envisioned for his program. "Omaha isn't a city to me," he said of the College World Series' home- town. "It's a way of life." It's also the Promised Land, and not just for him or any one of his teams. He made a vow to his former coach at East Carolina, Keith LeClair (who died in 2006 after battling ALS), that he would continue his legacy and take a team to the World Series. "I got into coaching because I made a promise to Coach LeClair that my- self and my teammates, we would continue his inspiration and continue his legacy and get to Omaha for him, because he never got to go," Bakich said. But he never meant only once. In fact, the bar has now been set for fu- ture generations of Wolverines. Get- ting there was great, Bakich said, but he made it clear that's what he came to Ann Arbor to do — repeatedly. "Team 153 has inspired a future generation of Michigan baseball players to realize what the new stan- dard of college baseball [at Michigan] is all about," he said. "It's inspired a believability that being a national champion is a reality. We were one game away from it. "The ripple effect of that, how it will impact recruiting, the growth of our program, the consistency that could take place from here on, be- ing a perennial Omaha contender, a national championship contender … that's what's really exciting about this." The Wolverines weren't exactly rolling heading into the NCAA Tour- nament. They were one of the last four teams to make the field after staggering to the finish line in the regular season, dropping five of their last seven games in conference play, including two to Indiana to finish second to the Hoosiers. The postseason looked precarious when they lost their Big Ten Tourna- ment opener, a 2-1 setback to Ohio State. In the next game, the season was essentially down to its final two strikes with sophomore Jordan Nwogu at the plate and Michigan trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth. The Wolverines' designated hitter ripped a double on a 1-1 count to score two runs and walk it off, and U-M followed with wins over Mary- land and Nebraska to punch their NCAA ticket. They lost the title to the Cornhusk- ers in the Big Ten semifinals, but they got a fresh start when they heard their name called for the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines also had an ace in MALE TEAM OF THE YEAR BASEBALL A RUN TO REMEMBER Erik Bakich's Baseball Team Captured Michigan Fans' Hearts On Its Journey To Omaha

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