Michigan embraces underdog role in College World Series
Omaha, Neb. — Jordan Nwogu began his slide just as he would any other, about 15 feet away from third base.
But, his left foot caught awkwardly in the dirt, sending him earthbound earlier than expected. His arms, already extended in the sliding motion, couldn’t adjust quickly enough to cushion his fall. Instead, they crashed into the ground, propelling his face forward into the dirt, about five feet short of his intended destination.
And thus, Nwogu became a GIF.
The outfielder didn’t intend to become an Internet sensation — he was simply doing his job. The sophomore was standing on first base during the fifth inning of Michigan’s 2-0 win over Florida State on Monday when Jesse Franklin ripped a single through the right side of the infield. Nwogu alertly took the extra base, though his arrival was a bit bumpier than expected.
The wipeout resulted in a small cut above his right eye and a visit from the training staff, but he stayed in the game and scored minutes later on an opposite-field single from Jimmy Kerr.
It was when Nwogu returned to the dugout and saw the replay that he knew what was coming.
“I’m never going to hear the end of it,” he said with a laugh. “I scored the run. That’s all that matters.”
Nwogu’s stumble is one of very few Michigan has encountered so far in the College World Series. The Wolverines have yet to trail, defeating Texas Tech 5-3 on Saturday before knocking off the Seminoles on Monday night. They’re just one win away from the CWS Finals, a thought seemingly impossible as recently as a week ago.
Michigan entered the CWS as the unquestioned underdog. After squeaking into the NCCA Tournament, the Wolverines were 50-1 odds to take home the CWS title, the lowest in the field. They teetered on the high wire of elimination throughout the postseason, balancing an incredibly thin line between advancing and cleaning out their lockers.
But survival mode suits this squad, and Michigan embraces its underdog role. In fact, low expectations ironically have the team playing with a sense of fearlessness the tournament’s favorites envy.
“We came in as the underdogs, so we didn’t think we had a lot to prove,” Nwogu said. “All the pressure is on the other team because we’re the underdogs. We’re going to keep applying the pressure and hopefully we can keep winning.”
Kerr pointed to Michigan’s 5-4 win over Illinois on May 23 as the moment the Wolverines embraced their identity. Down to their final strike of the game, and likely their season, they staved off elimination with a walk-off, two-run double by Nwogu.
The thrill of a clutch victory created momentum, but it also forced Michigan’s players to look themselves in the mirror. If not for Nwogu’s heroics, their season — and some of their careers — would have been over.
And the Wolverines weren’t quite ready for that moment.
“I think that just kind of burned in our mind how much appreciation we should have for every moment we have with each other,” Kerr said. “We just have to keep playing loose and keep having fun with it. It’s just made these last few weeks so much easier.”
Michigan will try to keep its momentum Friday at 2 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Texas Tech and Florida State. Another victory would secure a spot in the CWS Finals.
The inbox on Nwogu’s phone was already flooded after Monday’s win, with messages ranging from supportive (“Are you OK?!?”) to humorous (“LMAO, eat dirt”). But Nwogu can easily overlook those texts because of the others he and his teammates are receiving: those of congratulations that Michigan has made it this far.
And if they have anything to say about it, more of those texts are soon to come.
“We’re just bringing our best to the field every day,” Kerr said. “We’re just in such a groove that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing out there. We have so much trust in each other that we know we’re going to bring a quality team to the field.”
Dan Hoppen is a freelance writer.
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), noon (ESPN); Louisville leads, 4-1, through five innings of suspended game
Game 8 — Vanderbilt (55-11) vs. Mississippi State (52-13), 2 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 — Michigan 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)