Omaha, Neb. — In the quiet of Michigan’s locker room, pitcher Tommy Henry, his eyes reddened and moist, put the season and the College World Series run that fell just short of the national championship in perspective.
Henry pitched splendidly in the opening game of the CWS for Michigan on Monday, but he could only watch as his teammates dropped the next two to Vanderbilt, which earned its second national championship since 2014 with Wednesday's 8-2 victory.
What did this tournament run by Michigan, making its first appearance in the World Series in 35 years and nearly adding its first national championship since 1962, show?
“How tough a group of guys this is,” Henry said. “According to the (NCAA Tournament) committee, we barely snuck into the tournament. Nobody picked us to make it out of that regional. We made it to L.A., nobody picked us to make it out of (that Super Regional). At the beginning of this tournament, we had the highest odds to win it all, but we’re here on the last day of the college baseball season. You know all of that is really noise and it didn’t affect us in any way.
“It just speaks to how tough this group is. There’s a lot of people who counted all of us, but we knew if everyone in here believed and believed in each other that good things can happen. We came up a little bit short, but once the pain goes away we’ll reflect back, and we’ll be proud of this season.”
Second baseman Ako Thomas focused on the positives even after falling short of the prize.
“This one sucks, but we had a really good run,” Thomas said. “A lot of people didn't expect us to be here, and we fought our butts off, and we're very proud.”
Henry said the toughest thing was losing on the final day of the college baseball season.
“Everyone in this locker room doesn’t believe in all the Cinderella story thing,” he said. “We believe we belong here, and we knew we belonged here the whole time. That gives confidence to all the guys coming back. This wasn’t a Cinderella thing. Michigan baseball will be back very soon.”
Standing and watching
The Wolverines remained on the field to watch the Vanderbilt celebration and trophy presentation. They then took a moment as a group to turn and face their family, friends and Michigan fans in TD Ameritrade Park to applaud and thank them. Michigan coach Erik Bakich, who completed his seventh season with the program, raised his cap to the fans.
He said he wanted his team to take in the whole scene.
“We were watching it because there's only one other team in the country that gets to watch that live,” he said. “Everyone else is watching it on TV. That's something that has value for our guys, to see that in person. We're also watching it out of respect for Vanderbilt and what they accomplished. It's a huge moment for them. Those would be the two reasons.
“Obviously we want to win. We want to be No. 1. We train to be No. 1. But there's only one happy team at the end of this. Ako hit on it. What this has done for these guys as people and how it's going to impact their success, these guys are going to go on, they're going to be future husbands and future fathers and future community leaders a whole lot longer than they're baseball players, but the lessons that they learned in our program and through our success in this postseason are going to last with them forever. Even though we're not the national champion and we are the national runner-up, I know what it's going to do for these guys for the rest of their lives, and that's awesome.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin met Bakich when he joined the Clemson staff as a volunteer coach. When Corbin took the job at Vanderbilt, he hired Bakich as an assistant and they became close friends.
This was Corbin’s second national championship, and it was challenging because he beat someone who means so much to him.
“It's always difficult to play someone that you really care about, but we're very real with one another,” Corbin said. “Our wives are very real with one another. We got to share this moment together as friends and as families, and our two teams just played. Once our two teams were on the field, then we kind of let it go. We knew once it was over that we both could live with one another. We don't have egos. Neither one of us do.
“He's a special guy. I say that besides the sport. I've always said Vanderbilt is not Vanderbilt if Erik Bakich isn't there. He created a lot of this, these foundations that Vanderbilt has allowed people to come and have what we had today, and I just — in a big way, I wish he was part of something like this with the same uniform. I would have loved to celebrate with him because he's a very deserving guy. But in saying that, he will enjoy this at some point. He will have that opportunity.”
Around the horn
Michigan had five representatives on the College World Series tournament team: Jimmy Kerr (first base), Thomas (second base), Jack Blomgren (shortstop), Jesse Franklin (center field) and Henry.
Vanderbilt freshman pitcher Kumar Rocker was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
... Bakich on what Omaha and the College World Series mean to him: “Omaha isn’t a city to me. It’s a way of life.”