LOS ANGELES – The University of Michigan baseball team is heading to the College World Series for the first time in 35 years after knocking off No. 1 UCLA twice in the super regional.
Michigan was one of the last teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and got placed in the Corvallis regional with defending national champion Oregon State.
After staving off elimination in a winner-take-all regional final game against Creighton, the Wolverines weren't expected to have any chance on the road against the team that was No. 1 in the nation for most of the season.
Michigan took the fight to UCLA, though, controlling the first game for nine innings and leading for most of the second game before surrendering the lead in the eighth inning and losing in extra innings.
As it has the entire postseason, Michigan fought through adversity and took the rubber match, outlasting UCLA 4-2 in Los Angeles.
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The Wolverines were led by starting pitcher Tommy Henry, who was in the hospital Saturday with the flu but returned to the field Sunday for the most important game of the season. He fired seven excellent innings, holding one of the best offenses in the nation to just two runs on seven hits. Henry struck out six batters and didn't issue a walk.
Michigan has owned the second inning throughout the NCAA Tournament, and that was the case again Sunday. After a leadoff walk and a Christian Bullock double, Jack Blomgren broke the scoreless tie with an RBI groundout.
Jake Pries quickly tied the game with a home run in the bottom half, and UCLA took its first lead in the third when Jordan Brewer tripped while tracking a Garrett Mitchell line drive. The liner turned into a triple, and Mitchell scored on a groundout.
Once again, Michigan battled back.
Bullock walked to lead off the fifth inning, stole second and moved to third on a Blomgren single. Blomgren got picked off first base, but Michigan caught a break as the Bruins botched the rundown and allowed him to dive safely into second.
The very next batter, Ako Thomas, singled up the middle to drive in what would end up being the winning run.
Michigan coach Eric Bakich said Blomgren broke his finger sliding into second base, but after running briefly into the dugout, he returned to the game with his fingers taped and eventually recorded the final out with the tying run on base.
Michigan's fourth run came in the ninth, courtesy of a Bullock triple and a Joe Donovan sacrifice fly. The run didn't technically end up mattering, but it was a massive insurance run at the time because of Michigan's late-inning bullpen struggles throughout the tournament.
Benjamin Keizer got six huge outs for Michigan to close the game, striking out a pair of hitters and allowing just one base hit and one hit batter.
This was only the second super regional appearance for the Wolverines after they were swept by Oregon State in Corvallis in 2007. After picking up their first two super regional wins in school history, Michigan will go to Omaha for the College World Series for the first time since 1984.
Michigan will begin its CWS slate against No. 8 Texas Tech, which won a super regional rubber match against No. 9 Oklahoma State. The Wolverines traveled to Lubbock, Texas, for three games March 21-23 this season and got swept by the Red Raiders, losing by a combined score of 29-10.
This Michigan team has come a long way since March, though, and will look to continue its magical postseason run in Omaha.