As last team in, Michigan has fuel for NCAA tournament
Ann Arbor – Michigan was the last team to make the 64-team NCAA baseball tournament, and the Wolverines are clearly using that as motivation.
The Wolverines (42-15) are the No. 3 seed in the Chapel Hill, N.C., regional and will face Florida Gulf Coast (42-18) on Friday at 1 p.m. Host and No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 4 Davidson also play Friday in the double-elimination regional. The winner will advance to face the winner of the Houston regional.
“Definitely we don’t look at being the last team in as a representative factor of who we are, what we stand for, our core believes, our culture,” pitcher Mac Lozer said Monday after the tournament selection show.
“They say that we’re the last team in, but we’re going to be the last team standing. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”
Michigan is one of five Big Ten teams to make the tournament and will be making its 23rd appearance and first since 2015.
The Wolverines entered the Big Ten tournament having won six of their final seven games and fell a half-game short of winning the regular-season conference title. But they stumbled in the Big Ten Tournament, going 0-2 with losses to Northwestern and Indiana.
Still, Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich said the team should have been rewarded for its consistency throughout the season.
“I think I would do best just to say we’re happy to be in and we’re looking to make the most of it,” Bakich said Monday when asked about being the last team in, behind Auburn, Texas A&M and UCLA. “This is a team that has had quite a bit of an edge all season, so I think if they see nationally the perception is we’re the last team in the field, then, yeah, it could deepen that edge a little bit, could make that chip a little bit bigger.
“I think the storyline is, these guys from start to finish have been very consistent all year and they deserve a bid. They earned a bid. Yeah, we didn’t win the tournament championship, we went 0-2, we had a poor showing in the conference tournament, but that was our 56th and 57th game, and from games one to 55 we were very consistent and played at a high level for pretty much the entire year.
“Thought it was an earned bid, a deserved bid. Someday this program, we want to be one of the national eight seeds, but right now we’re happy to take the next step with our program, earn an at-large bid and keep moving forward.”
Before the selection show, Bakich told his team, which was gathered in the Branch Rickey Classroom at the Wilpon Complex, that the program had put itself in a good position to be a tournament team without needing an automatic bid from winning the Big Ten tournament.
He knew there was also a strong chance that because of the team’s tournament finish, the NCAA committee could rationalize a reason not to include the Wolverines.
“I felt it was 50-50 honestly with all the stolen bids, because as many positives as we have, Indiana and Maryland had the head-to-head wins over us in the regular season, and we did go 0-2 in the conference tournament,” he said. “If somebody really wanted to make a case for how a team could be excluded over a couple of other teams, I’d guess there’d be some ammunition there.
“But the consistency and the body of work – these guys won 42 games in a 55-game regular season and played at a high level all year long, had a good RPI, had a marquee series sweep over Oklahoma, finished a half a game out of first place in our conference, just feel like there were too many positives to outweigh a couple of negatives.”
The players stressed their overall consistency during the regular season was the difference maker.
“We put together a solid body of work throughout the entire year that is definitely respectable enough to be fortunate enough to be selected to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid,” Lozer said. “It’s awesome to have the type of consistency we had throughout the entire year, because consistency is one big thing that is a huge factor for postseason baseball and tournament baseball.”
The team will practice Tuesday and depart Wednesday for North Carolina. The Wolverines said they will feed off that last-in motivation as they head into the tournament.
“It’s probably just going to give us a little edge, motivate us to do well, knowing that we were the last team in,” infielder Ako Thomas said.
CHAPEL HILL REGIONAL
At Boshamer Stadium
Game 1 — Michigan (42-15) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (42-18), 1 p.m.
Game 2 — North Carolina (47-12) vs. Davidson (32-24), 6 p.m.
Game 3 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 4 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary) — Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.