Jacob Cronenworth is Michigan's Mr. Everything
Ann Arbor — On the biggest weekend of Michigan's baseball season, junior Jake Cronenworth worked a little overtime.
Cronenworth, infielder and relief pitcher, was exhausted after playing in all four of the Wolverines' games in the Big Ten tournament last week. But in the end, Cronenworth found himself in a familiar spot to finish the holiday weekend — on the mound, getting the final outs.
In a nail-biting ninth inning against Maryland in the title game Sunday, Cronenworth eventually closed out the Terrapins to give Michigan its first Big Ten tournament title and first bid to the NCAA tournament since 2008.
The third-seeded Wolverines will face No. 2 seed Bradley in a regional matchup at Louisville on Friday at 2 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament that also features the top-seeded host Cardinals and No. 4 seed Morehead State.
Cronenworth, who was named most outstanding player of the Big Ten tournament, could have another huge role in Michigan's path forward, much as he did last weekend. In the four games, he went 7-for-20 (.350) and played some stellar defense in addition to his pitching, drawing raves from coach Erik Bakich.
"That might have been one of the best individual performances I've seen in a week in a tournament setting," Bakich said. "To excel at the plate, defensively, and on the mound, you're talking about three phases of the game. He was deserving of that MVP award and was instrumental in allowing us to win that championship — and it wouldn't have been done without him."
But when the Wolverines (37-23) needed to finish out the ninth inning, holding on to a two-run lead, there wasn't much question where Bakich would turn.
"I was pretty tired in the last game, having to pitch four games and play all nine innings in every game," said Cronenworth, who went to St. Clair High. "I knew I had to throw at least one inning (Sunday). It might not have been the best inning I've thrown, but it was the most fun.
"I told (Bakich) before the game I could go one (inning) if you need it. I wanted to be in there."
Cronenworth gave up a run and had runners on second and third before getting a flyout to left fielder Kevin White, ending the game and setting off the celebration. It was a fitting conclusion as Cronenworth is third on the team with a .337 batting average, and leads in runs (61), hits (85), stolen bases (11) and saves (eight).
His three years at UM have been building to the crescendo of making the NCAA tournament, but Cronenworth is no stranger to coming up big in clutch situations.
In his senior season he led St. Clair to the school's first state championship, in 2011. That day, he was the starting pitcher and tossed a complete-game three-hitter to topple Grand Rapids Christian, 4-1, in the Division 2 final.
"He brought intensity and focus; at Michigan they call him a 'diamond rat,' which is their take on a gym rat," said St. Clair coach Dennis White, who was an assistant coach on the 2011 team. "That's basically what he was. He was extremely focused and worked really hard. He tried to learn everything he could about hitting."
Cronenworth teamed with Joel Seddon — the Gatorade player of the year that season — to make a formidable 1-2 punch for the Saints, who had nine players who went on to play college baseball.
"He pitched because we desperately needed him to pitch, but that wouldn't have been his choice if that had been an option," White said.
'Falling into place'
Playing shortstop, third base and pitcher, Cronenworth was a huge asset in high school, much as he is for the Wolverines now. The myriad of skills keeps him on his toes and keeps him in the field to help out in any way needed.
That also means keeping several fielding gloves in his equipment bag, because he could end up anywhere on the field, at any point in the game.
"I just lay (the gloves) out before the game, and whatever happens happens," Cronenworth said.
Cronenworth was still caught up in the whirlwind of emotions on Monday, when the team watched the selection show to see where they'd be playing. Regardless how the rest of the season turns out, he'll have a week to remember in getting the Wolverines back to the top of the Big Ten.
"The weekend he had was a testament to a kid who's worked extremely hard in three years being at Michigan and a kid who has great ability," Bakich said. "The type of player, worker and person he is, it's good to see everything falling into place."
Where: Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
Teams: No. 1 Louisville (43-16), No. 2 Bradley (35-19), No. 3 Michigan (37-23), No. 4 Morehead State (38-20)
At stake: Spot in best-of-three Super Regional against winner of Fullerton, Calif., regional
All games on ESPN3
Game 1: Michigan vs. Bradley, 2 p.m.
Game 2: Louisville vs. Morehead State, 6 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, noon
Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, noon
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 7: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, if necessary, 6 p.m.