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This is a darn cool series. Let's start there.

For starters, they played earlier this season, Michigan and then-No. 2. UCLA — and the Wolverines actually picked that one off, 7-5, at Dodger Stadium no less, in early March.

Then there's UCLA's park, Jackie Robinson Stadium. Robinson, of course, was the man who broke baseball's color barrier, signed by a Dodgers executive named Branch Rickey, who just so happens to be a Michigan alum.

And there also are six Michigan players who happen to be from Southern California.

Michigan (44-19) plays UCLA (51-9), now the top-ranked team in the country, in the Los Angeles Super Regional, a best-of-three series that starts Friday night. This is basically the Sweet 16 of college baseball.

"Oh yeah, yeah, we want to be the best," said Karl Kauffmann, a right-handed starting pitcher out of Birmingham Brother Rice. 

"At the end of the day, if you're going to come out on top, you have to go through this."

Michigan is in the Super Regional for the first time since 2007, and the first time in head coach Erik Bakich's seven-year tenure. Two more wins, and the Wolverines are in the College World Series for the first time since 1984.

And who would've thunk it?

Michigan had confidence, sure, but maybe not this much.

Consider this: By winning their regional in Oregon, the Wolverines didn't have time to fly home, and had to stay on the West Coast for their Super Regional in Los Angeles.

That made for some tricky logistics, starting with contacts, literally. Many Michigan players ran out of contact lenses.

"Nobody's got enough clothes, nobody's got anything," Kauffmann said, laughing, on Wednesday afternoon. "We might be going to a Salvation Army soon to get something.

"But we wouldn't trade it for anything."

That's especially true, given where Michigan came from — especially late Sunday night, in the moments after it was shell-shocked after blowing a 7-4, ninth-inning lead to Creighton in what looked like a sure-fire win to clinch the ticket to the Super Regional.

As it was, Michigan had to come back Monday to the field in Corvallis, Oregon, for a winner-take-all game — and had no problem, 17-6.

What a turn of emotions.

"I mean, talk about a gut-punch," said left-hander Tommy Henry, out of Portage Northern, speaking of that Sunday loss. "Obviously, it wasn't how any of us planned on it finishing off, but we played well for eight innings. That was kind of the vibe after the game, as hard as it was. We had to come to the realization that we played very good baseball for, what was that, the exception of one inning all weekend.

"It was cool to watch them seize that opportunity."

Monday night was especially tough on Kauffmann and Henry, Michigan's 1-2 punch in the starting rotation. They had already done their work, and weren't going to pitch Monday. It was up to everyone else.

Kauffmann and Henry's work was done.

All they could do was watch, which sounds easy, except it wasn't.

"It is stressful," Henry said, laughing, at least now.

Said Kauffmann: "It's the toughest thing. You want to grab a bat."

No need, the bats did plenty, and so did the pitching, as Michigan made up for barely missing out on a Big Ten championship in a big, big way.

Henry and Kauffmann, who along with their Michigan teammates got in a little light practice Wednesday morning along with a workout at the famous Gold's Gym and some Los Angeles sight-seeing, will be ready to get back into the mix for Games 1 and 2 against the Bruins, as Michigan's top starting pitchers.

They also were Michigan's top two draft picks this year, each going in the second round, Henry, 74th overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kauffmann going just three picks later to the Colorado Rockies.

The timing was perfect: The draft picks came in just moments after Michigan celebrated its clinching win over Creighton, allowing all the Wolverines to get in on the hoopla. (Henry called it the "best day of my life.")

And by all of the Wolverines, we mean absolutely all of them, even though those young relief pitchers who had such a tough go of it during that abysmal ninth inning Sunday night — but might now be better off for it.

"There's no doubt," Kauffmann said. "We're going to need those bullpen arms to step back out, and now they've gotten their feet wet."

Said Henry: "We definitely had our fair share of learning opportunities throughout the entire season, and we had to learn from those to make us better."

Los Angeles Super Regional

At Jackie Robinson Stadium; best-of-three

Michigan (44-19) vs. UCLA (51-9)

Friday: 9 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday: 9 p.m., ESPN2

Sunday, if necessary: 9 p.m., ESPN2

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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