Omaha, Neb. — For a team that has thrived on theatrics all year, Michigan’s 5-3 victory over Texas Tech, its first College World Series victory since 1983, required surprisingly little drama.
The Wolverines scored in the top of the first and never relinquished the lead Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park. Karl Kauffmann delivered seven solid innings and was backed by peerless defense as Michigan won the tournament’s opening game.
The Wolverines will next play at 7 Monday against Florida State, which defeated Arkansas 1-0 Saturday.
Texas Tech did make Michigan sweat a bit in the ninth by putting two men on with two out. But Jeff Criswell fanned Brian Klein, who’d earlier launched a two-run home run, to end the game and keep the Wolverines on the winners’ side of the bracket.
“I would say it’s a statement,” outfielder Jordan Brewer said. “We all know what we have and what we have in the tank. We’re all excited to see what we’ve got next. Nothing is going to stop us. We’re just going to keep rolling and playing our game.”
No Wolverine made a bigger statement than Kauffmann, who submitted his fourth straight start of at least seven innings. Outside of Klein’s home run in the fourth, Kauffmann stifled the Texas Tech offense, keeping his postseason ERA at a sterling 2.03.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich couldn’t say enough about his junior starter, who’s evolution as a pitcher was pivotal to UM’s victory. Kauffmann arrived in Ann Arbor enamored with velocity and strikeouts. But as his career evolved, Kauffmann learned the value of mixing three pitches, inducing ground balls, and avoiding walks.
That maturation showed Saturday, as Kauffmann had just three strikeouts and surrendered eight hits, but didn’t submit a single free pass and kept the Red Raiders from mounting many serious threats.
“For him to just fill up the strike zone with three pitches in any count, in any location, he's just tough to hit, especially with the ball moving that much,” Bakich said. “He's just been dialed in, and he and (pitching) coach (Chris) Fetter have put together a really nice pitch plan. He’s a mature guy who's able to execute it, and it's been a huge spark for us these last few weeks.”
After Jordan Nwogu scored in the first, Michigan broke the game open in the third. Senior Jimmy Kerr laced a two-strike pitch down the right field line for a triple, his first in two years, to drive in a pair. Third baseman Blake Nelson then dropped a single into left to score Kerr and open a 4-0 lead.
That breathing room was short-lived, as Klein golfed a low Kauffmann offering into the right field seats to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third. Then in the sixth, the Red Raiders put runners on second and third with no outs. But Kauffmann wiggled free of the jam, surrendering a single run and stranding a runner on third with a strikeout.
Kauffmann stayed in for one more frame before Bakich turned to Criswell, a starter who made his first relief appearance of the season in last week’s Super Regional victory over UCLA. Criswell struck out four over two scoreless innings to close it out.
“The way we've been approaching all these tournaments is we're just going to worry about Game 1 and do whatever we have to do in Game 1 and worry about Game 2 in Game 2,” Bakich said. “So Criswell and (fellow starter Tommy) Henry were both the two guys in the pen. And we were hoping Karl would do exactly what he did, get us to the eighth inning. We had Criswell, we had Henry both available, and just with the way the tournament is, where there's days off, it is a great matchup for our strong starting pitching that can also double as relievers.”
While the Wolverines were understandably thrilled with the victory, the mood in the postgame locker room was rather subdued.
The players made it clear they didn’t come to Omaha to win one game. And as historic as this victory was, their work is just beginning.
“We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves — the University of Michigan, our fans, and each other,” catcher Joe Donovan said. “We’re just a hot team right now.
"We played very well and we executed.”
Saturday's CWS game
Florida State 1, Arkansas 0: Drew Parrish limited Arkansas to five hits in eight innings and J.C. Flowers scored on a sacrifice fly in the ninth to give Florida State a win over Arkansas..
Parrish and Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell engaged in a classic pitcher’s duel sprinkled with outstanding defensive plays, neither team budging until the Seminoles broke through against reliever Casey Scroggins in the last inning.
The win was the sixth straight in the NCAA Tournament for Florida State (42-21), which is trying to bring retiring 40th-year coach Mike Martin his first national championship in 17 trips to the CWS.
College World Series schedule
At Omaha, Nebraska; Double Elimination; x-if necessary
Game 1 — Michigan 5, Texas Tech 3
Game 2 — Florida State 1, Arkansas 0
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 — Texas Tech (44-19) vs. Arkansas (46-19), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6 — Michigan (47-20) vs. Florida State (42-21), 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)
Friday, June 21
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.