Michigan baseball plays for national championship in decisive Game 3 vs. Vanderbilt
Wolverines face winner-take-all game in College World Series finals
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan baseball team will play one final game Wednesday with a national championship on the line.
Michigan will play Game 3 against No. 2 Vanderbilt, with the winner claiming the College World Series title.
The Wolverines fell to Vanderbilt 4-1 in Tuesday's Game 2 with a chance to clinch the championship and finish the CWS a perfect 5-0. Instead, the teams split the first two games and will duke it out one final time.
Kumar Rocker was the hero for Vanderbilt in Game 2, allowing just one run -- which scored after he left the game -- in 6.1 innings. Michigan had plenty of runners in scoring position against Rocker, but his dominant fastball-slider combination got him out of the jams with swings and misses.
Michigan head coach Erik Bakich elected to use his bullpen to get through Game 2, which means starters Karl Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell should be available in Game 3.
It'll be all hands on deck in the decisive third game. Tommy Henry, who threw 100 pitches in Game 1 of the series, and Isaiah Paige, who pitched four innings in Game 2, might be the only questionable pitchers for the Wolverines.
Leadoff hitter Jordan Nwogu, who left Game 2 with a quad strain, won't play for Michigan.
Kauffmann will likely get the start for Michigan, though he'll do so on just four days' rest. He typically received five or six days off in between regular-season starts.
Kauffmann, who was drafted No. 77 overall by the Colorado Rockies in this year's MLB draft, has been rock solid for Michigan throughout the NCAA Tournament.
In the opening game of the tournament, Kauffmann pitched 8.2 shutout innings, allowing just six hits and two walks against No. 22 Creighton. He struck out seven batters and threw 123 pitches.
He also got the ball in the opening game of the Super Regional against No. 1 UCLA. Kauffmann allowed just two runs on four hits and two walks over 8.1 innings, striking out eight batters. He set the tone for a surprise Michigan win on the road against the nation's top-ranked team.
In the College World Series, Kauffmann has started twice, both against No. 8 Texas Tech. He threw a combined 13 innings, allowing six runs on 14 hits and four walks, striking out five batters.
While he hasn't been quite as dominant in the CWS, the results have been positive. Now, he'll face his biggest challenge: a Vanderbilt offense with four MLB draft picks and more future professional talent.
Kauffmann threw 100 pitches Friday against Texas Tech, so Bakich will likely have to switch to Criswell midway through the game.
Despite being named First Team All-Big Ten as a starting pitcher, Criswell hasn't been a starter in Omaha. He's turned into Bakich's top out of the bullpen, a role that's worked to perfection.
Criswell closed out both of Michigan's wins over Texas Tech and Game 1 against Vanderbilt. In total, he's allowed no runs on two hits and two walks over 5.2 innings, striking out 10 batters.
Criswell's most recent start came in Game 2 of the Super Regional, when he battled through 5.1 innings against UCLA. He allowed 12 base runners but somehow held the Bruins to just two runs (one earned).
His other NCAA Tournament start came in the Corvallis Regional against Cincinnati, when he allowed three earned runs in 7.2 innings while striking out nine.
The sophomore threw seven pitches in Game 1 and 36 pitches Friday, so he should be fully rested and ready to take over when Kauffmann is done.
With Rocker unavailable and Game 1 starter Drake Fellows likely out after throwing 114 pitches Monday, Vanderbilt will turn to starter Mason Hickman for Game 3.
Hickman is an excellent starter who owns a 2.08 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 90.2 innings this season. He started Vanderbilt's win Friday against Louisville, pitching six shutout innings.
Hickman has only allowed more than two runs twice this season, but both of those came before April 3.
Base runners are hard to come by against Hickman, and he can get out of a jam with swing-and-miss stuff. Michigan will have to find a way to capitalize on scoring opportunities to have a chance.
Two-out runs and two-strike hits have been a staple of this NCAA Tournament run for Michigan, but Tuesday was a different story. If the Wolverines can recapture the magic from the first four games of the CWS, they'll have a good chance to score a few runs, even against Hickman.
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET Wednesday.
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