MSU, UM must wait to learn fate in NCAA baseball tourney

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Erik Bakich

Now, the waiting game begins.

And there's a good chance it doesn't end well for Michigan State and Michigan.

The Spartans and Wolverines were bounced from the Big Ten baseball tournament by hot-hitting Ohio State, forcing both schools to hold their collective breaths ahead of Monday's noon reveal of the NCAA tournament field on ESPNU.

Conventional wisdom says Michigan (36-21) has the better chance, given it has the best Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) in the Big Ten Conference, at 37. Michigan State (36-20), despite the slightly better record and the further run in the Big Ten tournament, is a longer shot, with an RPI of 73.

Last season, when MSU was left out of the NCAA field, it had an RPI of 51.

"I don't know," MSU coach Jake Boss Jr. said over the phone Sunday afternoon, aboard the team bus back from Omaha, Nebraska. "It's tough to say.

"I thought there was a really good chance last year and we were shut out. Based on that, I would say it probably doesn't bode well. At the same time, I guess you never know."

Michigan State was the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but gritted its way to wins in its first two games to get to the semifinals, where it only needed to beat Ohio State once. But the Buckeyes won both games, including Sunday's, 7-3. Ohio State won Saturday, 3-2, in 10 innings.

The Buckeyes also handed the fifth-seeded Wolverines both of their losses, in the opening round and in the loser's bracket, both times with massive offensive uprisings.

"Nobody's got a good taste in their mouth, especially losing twice to Ohio State," Michigan coach Erik Bakich said Sunday, while waiting at baggage claim.

"We're hopeful, but it depends on what's emphasized -- if the total body of work is good enough or if the last three weeks will be too costly."

Both Michigan and Michigan State struggled mightily to close the regular season, the Wolverines losing seven of eight entering the Big Ten tournament and the Spartans dropping seven of 11.

Earlier in the season, both teams were ranked, multiple times, in Baseball America's top 25.

Michigan State struggled to find offensive consistency much of the season, while Michigan suffered two key injuries late to two of its better hitters, one (Carmen Benedetti, concussion) who returned to play in the Big Ten tournament, and another (Matt Ramsay, broken arm) who didn't.

The Big Ten Conference got five teams into the NCAA Tournament last season, and that was a league record. It seems like a stretch to get that many this time.

Ohio State, the No. 4 seed, beat upstart No. 8 Iowa in the championship game, and that could open a berth for a team like Michigan, or regular-season champion Minnesota, or Nebraska.

In any event, Bakich didn't want to speculate, or lobby.

"I don't want to be one of those coaches giving all the reasons, when we really have no excuses," said Bakich, whose Wolverines made the NCAA Tournament last season, after winning the Big Ten tournament title. "We haven't played up to our potential.

"It's just been a tough stretch here the last few weeks. We've got great kids, a lot of time invested, and for the first 12 weeks of the season, we were a pretty good team. We haven't played to our potential these last few weeks, and confidence took a little bit of a hit.

"Hopefully we get an opportunity to continue playing."

Jake Boss Jr.

For Michigan State, which seemingly had the pitching and defense to go far, it probably feels like the offseason has begun.

That's not to take anything away from the season, which featured the fourth-most wins in program history, tied with Boss' 2011 team.

Boss has only won more games once, in 2012, the last time the Spartans made the NCAA tournament.

A return trip might have to wait at least another year.

"Thirty-six wins doesn't happen too often at Michigan State," Boss said. "I'm definitely proud of our guys. We talked about it in February with our guys, it's just a special group of kids. That's a tough thing about not being able to continue to play. It's the fact this team doesn't have any more moments together.

"No question, it's one of the better seasons I've ever been a part of it."

At least one team from Michigan is automatically in the NCAA tournament -- Western Michigan, which stunningly won the Mid-American Conference championship, 12-7 over Kent State.