Wolverines keep things on even keel with national title on the line

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Omaha, Neb. — There was no panic in the Michigan post-loss locker room. In fact, it didn’t look or seem much different than after a win.

Redshirt freshman starter Isaiah Paige allowed one unearned run on three hits while striking out five in four innings for Michigan.

The Michigan players remained confident even after a 4-1 loss to Vanderbilt at TD Ameritrade Park Tuesday night to even the best-of-three College World Series championship series. They will play Wednesday for the national championship.

“We’ve been in this position so many times,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “A month ago we were staring down our season being over (in the Big Ten tournament). We had an elimination game in a regional, we had an elimination game in a Super Regional. It only seems fitting we have an elimination game and this World Series goes to Game 3. All those repetitions of that adversity and being in these tight moments, it’s callused our mind to where I don’t think our guys are freaking out about it at all.

“I think they’re probably excited and expecting that the storyline of Team 153 is that it’s going to go down to three games, because, why not?”

Senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr said the key to a short turnaround is a short memory.

“It’s been too long of a year and we’ve worked too hard to get upset about that, upset about one bad game,” Kerr said. “We get to play another game again, which is the right way to look at it. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve done all postseason long, just keep having fun with it. We’ve got two of our best guys on the mound, and we trust them, and they’re going to trust us to get it done on offense and defense and we’re going to have some fun with it.”

Because they’ve been in similar situations, Bakich said the players are confident. They also know they have pitcher Karl Kauffmann starting with Jeff Criswell ready in relief. The two have combined for two victories in the World Series.

“it’s baseball, and anything can happen,” Bakich said. “Tomorrow, you’ve got two really good teams going at it and the team who plays the best is going to win. We’ve been in this spot multiple times now. We’re going to have to play well. We’re certainly going to have to play better than we’ve played the last two days, but I expect our guys will respond and they’ll be up for that challenge. As long as we stay loose and be aggressive and be the aggressor and compete pitch to pitch and not make the moment too big like we’ve been saying, we’ll see what happens.

“I like our chances. I think our mindset will be right. Whatever happens, I think our mindset will be right tomorrow.”

Filling in for Nwogu

Michigan lost lead-off hitter Jordan Nwogu in the third inning to a quad strain when he tumbled heading to first. He had to be assisted off the field.

“The way he limped off the field, he wasn’t able to put my pressure on it,” Bakich said. “I don’t think that will be a 24-hour recovery. We’ll see how he feels. Maybe. A little Kirk Gibson.”

Bakich said he wasn’t sure who he’d plug in at designated hitter and likely will move the lineup one spot and have the DH bat ninth.

Nwogu took to Twitter after the game to thank fans for their concern.

“I’ll be fine,” he wrote. “One man goes down and it’s the next man up. I’m gonna be the best cheerleader I can be for my team tomorrow. Let’s bring this thing home.”

Kerr said it will be tough to be without Nwogu.

“He’s been our table-setter all year long, one of the best in the country,” Kerr said. “Next man up and somebody will have a big day tomorrow.”

Paige gets the start

Michigan had used only three pitchers in the World Series before Tuesday night. At breakfast Tuesday, Bakich asked redshirt freshman Isaiah Paige what uniforms he wanted to wear that night.

That’s when Paige knew he was going to start Game 2.  He pitched four solid innings and gave up three hits and a run.

“Isaiah’s had good numbers all year,” Bakich said explaining why he went with Paige. “You look at his statistics, he’s been fantastic all season. The two things that stood out to me today were, No. 1, his poise. To be able to pitch in front of 25,000 people and be able to stay in control mentally and No. 2, the ability to throw pitches for strikes and to be able to keep a very good offensive team off-balance at times. Isaiah did a really good job mixing his pitches, and he gave us exactly what we needed him to do.

“We were hoping we could establish a lead so we could go to Criswell in those middle innings and have him finish it. We knew if we were going to extend Jeff it was going to be to finish the game instead of start the game. It just didn’t happen that way. The silver lining is we’ve got a rested Jeff Criswell for tomorrow.”

Paige said he had some nervousness before the game.

“And then Tommy (Henry) and Karl talked to me before the game and told me to have as much fun as you possibly can, and I did exactly that and had fun,” Paige said. “At first I was kind of shocked because I didn’t know I was pitching and then all of a sudden the guys were like ‘Aall right Isaiah it’s your time, let’s go, let’s get after it.’”

Tough pitcher

Vanderbilt’s freshman pitcher Kumar Rocker pitched six and a third innings and had 11 strikeouts. He made it impossible for the Wolverines to play aggressively.

“That’s a big leaguer out there,” Bakich said. “He’s got two really special pitches, and he throws both of them for strikes, and that’s the tough part. Sometimes guys with that kind of stuff, maybe the breaking ball is so good it’s out of the zone and you can disregard it. The problem with him is — the good thing for him, I should say, is that the breaking ball tunnels like the fast ball. It looks like fastball until it’s not. That’s what generates a lot of ugly swings up there. He’s really good. A kid like that, of that caliber coming to college, that’s good for college baseball. Those are the types of guys that make our game grow. You want to see highlighted on this type of stage.”


Twitter: @chengelis