ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Michigan baseball team's magical College World Series run came to an end Wednesday as the Wolverines fell to Vanderbilt in the national championship series.
After taking Game 1 of the best-of-three series, the Wolverines ran out of gas, dropping Game 2 4-1 and Game 3 8-2.
The timely two-out hitting that carried Michigan through the NCAA Tournament vanished as, for the second straight night, the offense struggled to come up with big hits.
Michigan led the game off with back-to-back-to-back singles to take a quick 1-0 lead. But the next three batters struck out, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Vanderbilt starter Mason Hickman was masterful after that first three-batter stretch, finishing with 10 strikeouts in six innings, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks.
Michigan's best opportunity came with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning. Ako Thomas lined a ball to left, but it was right at Pat DeMarco to end the inning.
Starter Karl Kauffmann didn't have it for Michigan, allowing five runs on five walks and three hits. He lasted just three innings before handing the ball over to Jeff Criswell.
Criswell allowed an inherited runner and a walk of his own to score before getting out of the fourth inning, and Michigan trailed 6-1.
Vanderbilt got its first run in the second on a home run by DeMarco.
Three walks and two singles resulted in three more runs for the Commodores in the third.
A leadoff walk by Kauffmann and a walk by Criswell came around to score in the fourth before Michigan calmed the game down for a couple of innings.
Vanderbilt was back at it in the seventh, though, with an infield single, a walk and a single to left to make it 7-1.
Michigan answered in the top half of the eighth with a leadoff double from Jesse Franklin and a two-out RBI double from Blake Nelson. But the Wolverines swung at some pitches well out of the strike zone to rob themselves of a potential big inning.
Vanderbilt went back up six runs with a walk and a pair of singles in the bottom half of the eighth.
Michigan went down with only a two-out walk in the ninth, and Vanderbilt stormed the field in celebration.
Criswell ultimately pitched the final five innings for Michigan, allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out seven.
For Michigan, the season will be remembered for the magical run that set up this championship series. The Wolverines won the Corvallis Regional hosted by the defending national champions and needed to beat No. 22 Creighton twice.
Michigan then knocked off No. 1 UCLA twice on its own field to earn a trip to Omaha.
In the College World Series, the Wolverines stormed to the finals, beating No. 8 Texas Tech in the opener, fellow Cinderella story Florida State in the second game and then Texas Tech again.
After a victory in Game 1 against Vanderbilt, it looked like Michigan's improbable run might end at the mountaintop. Vanderbilt was in control with Kumar Rocker and Hickman on the mound, though, and Michigan ultimately walked too many batters and couldn't get a timely hit.
Now, fans will see how much of a priority Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel is willing to make baseball, as head coach Erik Bakich is going to be a hot commodity around the country.
If Michigan wants to keep competing at the highest level in baseball, it will have to pay up and keep Bakich. If not, he'll have attractive offers to coach elsewhere.
Tommy Henry, Kauffman, Jordan Brewer, Jack Weisenburger and Jimmy Kerr will move on to professional ball after being selected in the 2019 MLB draft.
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