'Under-the-radar' UM earns Big Ten title, NCAA berth
Minneapolis -- Overcoming less-than-ideal playing conditions and a slow start on the scoreboard, the Michigan baseball team outlasted a ninth-inning scare from Maryland on Sunday in Big Ten championship game, winning 4-3.
The victory capped what many around the program believe was the best week of Michigan baseball since the team last won the conference tournament in 2008. With the win, the third-seeded Wolverines (37-23) scoop up the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, allowing the team to breathe easy on Selection Monday. Without the at-large bid, Michigan would have been on the bubble of the field of 64 teams that make the national bracket.
This is the 22nd time the Wolverines have made the NCAA Tournament.
"We had nothing to lose," said Michigan center fielder Jackson Glines, who was one of four Wolverines named to the all-tournament team. "I'm a senior, so I knew that I had like eight more at-bats to essentially give it my best shot. We went into each at-bat and each pitch with that mentality, and just played really hard."
"I think we were flying kind of under the radar," added Michigan starting pitcher Brett Adcock. "No one really expected for us to win the tournament anyways, so we used that as a chip on our shoulder and kept playing one game at a time."
The Wolverines called on junior closer Jacob Cronenworth in the top of the ninth to seal the victory, but the reliever ran into trouble for the first time in his four appearances in the tournament. After a leadoff groundout, the Terrapins got some traction with a single to center field.
The next Maryland batter shot a ball down the first-base line — potentially ending the game with a double play — but Michigan first baseman Carmen Benedetti slipped on the bag and was unable to get a solid throw off to second base.
Back-to-back singles scored a run, and that was followed by a hit-by-pitch to load the bases with two outs for the Terrapins' best hitter, Brandon Lowe, who was hitting .348 coming into Sunday's game.
Cronenworth won the battle, getting Lowe to fly out to left field to end the game.
All four of the Wolverines' runs crossed the plate in the fourth inning — a key response to the Terrapin momentum gained after taking a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly back in the top of the third.
For the second day in a row, Michigan took full advantage of its opponent's numerous mistakes.
Glines got things started with a leadoff walk, but was nearly erased when Benedetti followed with what appeared to be a tailor-made double play ground ball to the pitcher. The Maryland starter ended up being a detriment to his own cause, throwing the ball into center field to set up runners at the corners with no outs.
Next up was Wolverine designated hitter Cody Bruder, who shot an RBI-single to the gap in left-center field, tying the game, followed by a bloop single by left fielder Kevin White, scoring another run to put Michigan up, 2-1.
Three walks and a wild pitch resulted in two more runs in the inning, leaving the score at 4-1 entering the fifth.
That run support would be enough for Adcock, who piloted the team through 5.2 innings, allowing just two hits on only three days of rest. He pitched in the team's opening game of the tournament, and this marked his third start in just eight days.
"I definitely had it in mind, but I didn't know until last night that I would be starting today," Adcock said. "I prepared throughout the week like I was, and stayed with that confidence I had in the first game. Just let my defense work behind me."
Adcock's gem, in addition to solid work from the bullpen and some stellar defensive plays, tamed the Terps for much of the contest, limiting them to just three hits before the final inning.
The Wolverines will have to wait to see where they land in the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is released Monday, but they know their next game will be at a regional site beginning Friday.
"I'm so proud for our kids, and proud for this program," said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. "We're standing on 148 years of baseball tradition, and a lot of great men and teams that have come before us, and our guys just wrote a page of their own history when nobody expected them to do so. That's awesome."
ROAD TO OMAHA
What: NCAA baseball tournament selection show.
When: Monday, noon.
Field: 64 teams -- 31 conference champions and 33 at-large teams.
Format: Teams will be assigned to 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals. The regional winners will meet in two-team, best-of-three Super Regionals. The eight Super Regional winners advance to the College World Series at Omaha, Neb.
Locally: Michigan earned the Big Ten's automatic berth by winning the conference tournament on Sunday. Michigan State and Central Michigan could get at-large bids.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
Game 1: Michigan 4, Indiana 1
Game 2: Iowa 3, Ohio State 2
Game 3: Illinois 3, Nebraska 2
Game 4: Maryland 2, Michigan State 1
Game 5: Indiana 5, Ohio State 3
Game 6: Michigan State 9, Nebraska 7
Game 7: Michigan 8, Iowa 5
Game 8: Maryland 2, Illinois 1
Game 9: Indiana 10, Iowa 2
Game 10: Illinois 2, Michigan State 0
Game 11: Maryland 4, Indiana 2
Game 12: Michigan 5, Illinois 3
Championship: Michigan 4, Maryland 3