ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan baseball team's magical ride through the College World Series is one stop away from a national championship, and they'll have to get through powerhouse Vanderbilt to earn the title.
As one of the last four teams to make the NCAA Tournament this season, Michigan has been playing virtual must-win games for the better part of a month. Monday's opener of the national championship series certainly fits that bill, as Michigan squares off with No. 2 Vanderbilt.
Game 1 is particularly important for the Wolverines, as they'll send ace Tommy Henry to the mound. The lefty dominated Florida State his last time out, firing nine scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts. He allowed only three hits and finished with 100 pitches.
Vanderbilt will apparently counter with right-hander Drake Fellows, a sixth-round pick of the San Diego Padres. Fellows has been excellent this season, but he's not the ace of the Vanderbilt staff.
That distinction belongs to Kumar Rocker, who has already fired a no-hitter during the NCAA Tournament. He has a fastball that reaches nearly 100 mph and averages more than a strikeout per inning.
With Henry on the mound and Rocker set to start one of the next two games, Michigan could really use a win in Game 1.
Eric Bakich's team can't be counted out of any situation, though, especially during this current NCAA Tournament run.
After winning the Corvallis Regional and knocking off No. 1 UCLA on the road in the super regional, Michigan went 3-0 in the College World Series to earn a spot in the national championship.
Now just two wins away from a title, Michigan will look to stay hot offensively against Fellows.
The Wolverines ambushed Texas Tech on Friday for 14 hits, 12 walks and 15 runs. The attack was led by Detroit Tigers' 33rd-round pick Jimmy Kerr, who hit two homers, a double and a single in six at-bats.
Jesse Franklin chipped in three hits, four RBI and a walk.
Michigan has gotten contributions throughout the lineup during this NCAA Tournament run, though Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer is still trying to find his rhythm after missing time with turf toe.
Brewer was the lone Wolverine who didn't record a hit Friday, going 0-5 with an RBI and a strikeout.
With his team now on the biggest stage in college baseball, Brewer will look to break out of his slump and help an already potent offense attack Vanderbilt's excellent starting pitching.
Michigan and Vanderbilt both had five players selected by MLB teams.
The Commodores are led by No. 4 overall pick J.J. Bleday, the SEC Player of the Year and one of the most dangerous hitters in the country. Bleday leads college baseball in home runs and also hits for a high average.
Catcher Philip Clarke was selected in the ninth round by the Toronto Blue Jays and hits cleanup for Vandy. Shortstop Ethan Paul was drafted in the ninth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates and bats third. Outfielder Stephen Scott was taken in the 10th round by the Boston Red Sox and bats sixth.
In addition to four MLB draft picks in the top six spots of the order, Vanderbilt has Austin Martin leading off with a .406 average and .498 on-base percentage.
The third member of Vanderbilt's elite pitching staff is Mason Hickman, who has the best numbers this season and recently held Louisville scoreless for six innings to get to the championship series.
Michigan has only used three pitchers -- starters Henry, Karl Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell -- in the College World Series, so the bullpen is well-rested.
Jack Weisenburger could be a weapon for Michigan. He was drafted in the 20th round by the Oakland Athletics and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Walks are the biggest issue for Weisenburger -- 21 free passes in 29.2 innings this season.
He last pitched in the regional championship game against Creighton, firing a scoreless inning with one strikeout and one hit allowed.
Game 1 will begin at 7 p.m. ET Monday. Game 2 will be at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. If the teams split the first two games, Game 3 will begin at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Copyright 2019 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.