It was an early exit for the Michigan baseball team from the Big Ten Tournament, going 0-2 after finishing a half-game back from winning the regular-season title.
The Wolverines got back early to Ann Arbor, and last Saturday held a game-like scrimmage, the players in uniform and umpires working the “game” to keep them in competitive shape. Two days later, they found out they were the last team in the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
Michigan, ranked No. 24, will face Florida Golf Coast University Friday at 1 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. in the first game of the double-elimination regional. The Wolverines are 42-15, and while disappointed they were the last team to make the tournament, they’re grateful they were able to earn the program’s first at-large bid since 2007.
“This team has been on a little bit different mission since Day One, really wanting to be the best Michigan baseball team that we can and stack up historically with some of the best Michigan baseball teams that have been in our 151-year history,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said this week.
He found a silver lining in the early elimination from the Big Ten Tournament — giving players a chance to rest, particularly relief pitchers Jackson Lamb and Mac Lozer.
“Because we’ve ridden them hard,” Bakich said, adding that’s the toll it takes to reach 42 wins.
Bakich credited those two for the Wolverines’ late-inning performances, saying the last blown game was in the opening weekend when Lozer was hurt.
“We’ve been very good late innings,” Bakich said. “We’ve been damn elite with those guys on the mound in the late innings.”
Lozer said this is a tougher team overall.
“One thing we weren’t able to do last year that we’re doing a lot this year is staying in games late innings and finishing,” Lozer said. “Consistency — we’ve done that all year. We’re a much tougher team, we’re a much more prepared team and ready team to make a run at it.”
Lamb is coming off a tough outing in the Big Ten Tournament, but Bakich said he didn’t need to pull aside the pitcher, a first-team Big Ten selection, to have a long discussion.
“If there’s anyone I don’t need to talk to, it’s Jackson Lamb,” Bakich said. “That guy, he’s had such a difficult, adverse three years (with injuries) to get to this year. He walks out to the Cinderella Man song by Eminem. It couldn’t be more fitting to describe his journey and his path these last few years. If there’s a guy that defines and encapsulates mental toughness, it’s Jackson Lamb. I don’t worry about it. I’m actually very excited to see him pitch again.”
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.