Omaha, Neb. — The Michigan locker room was oddly quiet considering the enormity of the 2-0 victory over Florida State at TD Ameritrade Park. Though nearly the entire team had made its way into the clubhouse, the mood was strangely subdued.
Then Tommy Henry entered.
The Wolverines rained cheers on Monday's hero and the boombox suddenly sprung to life. Henry’s performance fueled Michigan’s win — and it wouldn’t have been right to start the celebration without him.
Michigan (48-20) has used strong starting pitching to continue its surprising postseason run into the College World Series. Karl Kauffmann hurled seven strong innings to help Michigan top Texas Tech, 5-3, in its CWS opener on Saturday, but that outing pales in comparison to the gem Henry submitted.
The junior threw a complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits while striking out 10. Henry was remarkably efficient, needing just 100 pitches (71 strikes) to silence the Seminoles (42-22).
"Well, in the biggest game in Michigan baseball history in a long, long time, we got the best pitching performance of Tommy Henry's career," Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. "He was the entire story line tonight. We needed a strong performance, and he gave us something magical tonight. I think we're all just in awe and very appreciative of holding down a very good Florida State team tonight, who's been extremely hot and finding every single way to win.
"Tommy was just — I don't even know if there's an adjective to describe how good he was, but he was better than that."
As a cherry on top, Henry set the program record for strikeouts in a single season with 127.
“By the second and third innings, he was just cruising,” first baseman Jimmy Kerr said. “He was getting ahead of guys, and when he’s getting ahead of guys, he’s really hard to put up runs against. His slider was first strike all day, and that change-up is just nasty.”
Michigan is fortunate Henry was on, because its offense struggled to get much going. It didn’t appear that would be the case early on, as center fielder Jesse Franklin clocked a no-doubt home run over the bullpen in right field in the game’s second at-bat.
But Florida State’s pitchers settled in and muzzled Michigan's bats. The Wolverines struck out a season-high 17 times and stranded seven runners. The only other production came on a two-out RBI single by Kerr in the fifth.
That was all the help Henry needed, a statement that would have seemed impossible as a month ago. The lefty struggled to find a groove in conference play, going 3-4 with a 6.50 ERA against Big Ten foes.
But Henry has found new life in the postseason. He has thrown at least seven innings in each of his starts, including a seven-inning outing against UCLA to punch Michigan’s ticket to Omaha. Henry has a 1.93 ERA over 23.1 innings in three postseason starts.
"We just tried as a pitching staff to come out here and do what we've done all year, attack the strike zone and play the numbers," Henry said. "A great hitter is going to get out seven out of 10 times, so if you attack the strike zone, you force the issue, and let the defense work, and you saw that tonight. Chris Bullock was running all around left field making a heck of a play. You saw in the ninth inning Ako (Thomas) was diving, a one-hop, hard-hit ground ball that he's making the play in a huge spot.
"It's easy when you can trust those guys behind you and just kind of watch them work and let them make the highlight plays."
Now just one win from the CWS finals, Michigan waits to see who its opponent will be on Friday at 2 p.m.
Whomever it is, Michigan will be the fresher squad. Kauffmann will be pitching on nearly a week’s rest, as will Jeff Criswell, who finished off Saturday’s win with two shutout innings. The rest of the staff has yet to take the mound, giving Bakich plenty of options.
And the Wolverines have Henry to thank for that.
“That's him in a nutshell is keeping the ball low in the zone, pounding it, discipline, taking breaths, the whole nine yards on it,” catcher Joe Donovan said. “And that's been what we've seen from him this entire time. I know Coach will say the exact same thing, but I think you guys are just obviously starting to see it now, but that's just Tommy Henry for you.”
Dan Hoppen is a freelance writer.
Monday's CWS game
Texas Tech 5, Arkansas 4: The Red Raiders were down three runs early against Arkansas before beating the Razorbacks for their 25th come-from-behind win this season, second most in the nation.
Cody Masters’ first triple of the season drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, Taylor Floyd held off Arkansas in the ninth and the No. 8 national seed Red Raiders (45-19) bounced back from a 5-3 loss to Michigan.
No. 5 Arkansas (46-20) was eliminated in two games a year after making it to the CWS finals. Both of the Razorbacks’ losses were by one run.
The teams combined for four home runs, tying the single game record at 8-year-old TD Ameritrade Park.
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 — Vanderbilt 3, Louisville 1
Game 4 — Mississippi State 5, Auburn 4
Game 5 — Texas Tech 5, Arkansas 4
Game 6 — Michigan 2, Florida State 0
Game 7 — Louisville (49-17) vs. Auburn (38-27), 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 8 — Vanderbilt (55-11) vs. Mississippi State (52-13), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 9 — Texas Tech (45-19) vs. Florida State (42-22), 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 10 — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Friday, June 21
Game 11 — Michigan (48-20) vs. Game 9 winner, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
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)
x-Game 14 — Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
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)