Omaha, Neb. — The last time Michigan played Texas Tech, it was left with a lot of soul-searching. The Wolverines committed eight errors and surrendered 33 hits as the Red Raiders swept the three-game series by a combined score of 29-10 in late March.
Though Michigan still held a respectable 14-7 record at the time, the series represented a missed opportunity for the team to make a statement against the then-No. 19 team in the nation.
Instead, the Wolverines were left staring in the mirror with some tough questions to answer.
The Wolverines clearly responded to the early adversity. They won seven of their next eight games and developed a reputation as a gritty squad that fought back and staved off elimination several times during its run to the College World Series.
And now that Michigan has reached the sport’s ultimate stage, it gets to measure its progress against the very team that sparked its run.
“We all started cheering once we found out we had Texas Tech again,” outfielder Jordan Brewer said with a smile.
Michigan will begin its first CWS appearance in 35 years Saturday at 2 p.m. against the Big 12 champion. No. 8 Texas Tech enters the game with a 44-18 record and closed the season on a roll, winning 21 of its last 26 games.
But the Wolverines aren’t intimidated by either their opponent’s hot streak or the nature of their first meeting. Michigan considers itself a vastly different squad, both physically and mentally, than the one that got dominated in Lubbock.
“We grew up as a team,” Brewer said. “We’re a completely different ball club. Back then, we had a lot of errors. We’re firing on all cylinders right now and we’re going to be a scary club.”
Since then, the Wolverines went 30-11 and finished second in the Big Ten. They shrugged off an early deficit to defeat Creighton in a winner-take-all game to take the Corvallis Regional, then shocked the college baseball world by knocking off No. 1 UCLA in the Super Regional.
Michigan may be a new team, but the challenges Texas Tech presents are the same as they were in March. The Red Raiders have a lock-down bullpen and a powerful offense headlined by shortstop Josh Jung, the eighth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. And as just one of three programs with four CWS appearances since 2014, Tech is no stranger to college baseball’s grandest stage.
But as the saying goes, the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. The Wolverines are very aware of the challenges Tech presents, and they believe everything they’ve gone through since that late-March series has them much prepared to conclude this meeting with a much different outcome.
“We’re familiar with their pitchers, and a lot of the same guys are the lineup that were that week,” first baseman Jimmy Kerr said. “But we’re a different team now. We know how to play our best baseball, and we play our best when we’re loose. It’s a neutral site now, and we’re looking forward to playing them again.
“We’re just treating it as a one-game tournament, and they’re just in our way right now.”
College World Series schedule
At Omaha, Nebraska; Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Game 1 — Michigan (45-20) vs. Texas Tech (44-18), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2 —Florida State (41-21) vs. Arkansas (46-18), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 — Louisville (49-16) vs. Vanderbilt (54-11), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4 — Mississippi State (51-13) vs. Auburn (38-26), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6 —Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 9 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 10 — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 11 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Game 12 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday, June 22
x-Game 13 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
x-Game 14 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2)
Monday, June 24: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, June 25: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
x-Wednesday, June 26: Pairings TBD, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Dan Hoppen is a freelance writer.