Michigan knocked off Texas Tech in a dominating effort, 15-3, to advance to the College World Series final. Here’s what Erik Bakich and the Wolverines said after the game.
For a .pdf of the full Michigan transcript, click here.
COACH BAKICH: I’d like to start off by saying congratulations to Texas Tech. They’re an incredible team, one of the most dangerous offenses we’ve faced all year. They’ve got as many power arms out of the bullpen as we’ve seen.
We saw how tough they were in Lubbock earlier in the year, and so to come out and get a couple of wins against a really quality club like that, just proud of our guys for being able to do that in this environment on this stage. But fantastic team over there with the Red Raiders.
In terms of today, and really to get to this point, pitching, defense, timely hits. Karl Kauffmann settling the game down after the 3-spot after the second inning and putting up four zeros was huge. And the defense has been great behind him all week.
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And then 10 2-out RBIs today, that’s the most we’ve had all year. So to get that many clutch hits today I thought was one of the biggest storylines and one of the biggest reasons — the main reason we were able to separate the game and have a lopsided score the way it was.
Q. Karl, it seemed like today maybe not the best stuff you’ve had all tournament long, which is admittedly not hard to do given how good you were coming up to this point. Seemed like maybe you struggled a little early on. What was your mindset going through the Texas Tech lineup over and over again and really settling down?
KARL KAUFFMANN: It was kind of the similar approach to last week. It was come out, attack, minimize their opportunities early in the game. Gave up a few too many free passes and it showed.
So the plays the defense made behind me when they needed to — Ako, that play up the middle in top of the third, huge; Blomgren, in the hole — there’s plays all day being made. So just giving us the best chance to win and keeping the game close, that was kind of my mindset.
Q. Jimmy, how big does that ball look right now? Seems like you’re really locked in. What’s going right for you right now?
JIMMY KERR: Just trying to slow the game down as a team and have quality at-bats, one pitch at a time. And today we did a great job of that. I think we hit over .380 as a team today and took advantage of a lot of free passes we got.
And like Coach Bakich said, guys had a lot of two-out at-bats and that allowed us to separate.
Q. Ako, I’m not sure if you remember the last time you were trailing was Game 3 of the Los Angeles Super Regional, and then you hit the two-run RBI to take the lead. Today you tied it up during Michigan’s first time trailing since then. Is that something that goes through your mind? Is there maybe a clutch factor you think you can reach in these situations? Or has it just been waiting for the right pitches and taking advantage when you have the opportunity?
AKO THOMAS: Yeah, it just seems like I’ve been up a lot in those situations this postseason. Those are definitely big senior moments and big leadership moments, and always happy to be up in those situations. And just thanks to my team for even allowing me to be up in those situations to start with. So just taking it one at-bat at a time, and yeah.
Q. Jimmy, Coach Tadlock mentioned that bunt in the sixth inning that kind of threw them off tilt and obviously created a big inning for you guys. Was that a sign or did you just improvise there?
JIMMY KERR: That’s something we work on BP every day, drop down that bunt down the third base line in case they were playing me back. I haven’t done it all year and they just, with no strikes, put a pretty big shift on.
I thought I’d try it out. And, yeah, that kind of, I guess the team fed from that and kept scoring the rest of the game?
Q. Jesse and Jimmy, you guys are currently leading the College World Series, I believe — you were tied with five runs and then Jimmy hit the sixth — that home run to get the sixth RBI of the College World Series. Is that a competition? Do you guys think about that at all in a game like this where you’re just putting stuff up in the stats? Is it at all like a friendly competition to you guys to see who can lead this competition in RBIs?
JESSE FRANKLIN: I don’t think either of us really are aware about the College World Series RBIs. But Jimmy this whole postseason has been unbelievable with the amount of RBIs and the amount of, like, big hits, like, actual big home runs, like, in Corvallis the ball going over the batter’s eye. And he’s had so many clutch RBIs for our team which is really awesome as a senior.
I don’t know about him, but I do kind of notice, like, the home run totals on the year. So I’m glad we have a couple more games. (Laughter).
JIMMY KERR: Yeah, it’s been a fun postseason but none of it would happen without JG, Brewer and Jesse hitting in front of me. They make it easy with guys on base all the time. A lot of credit goes their ways because RBIs are just guys in front of you doing their job.
Q. Karl or Jimmy, what kind of goes through your head now that you realize you’re playing for a national championship?
KARL KAUFFMANN: I think something that’s kind of been pretty beneficial for us is not really thinking about playing in the national championship or the stage that we’re on. It’s literally been a one-game, one-pitch mindset. And I think we kind of learned the lesson in the Corvallis Regional about making the moment too big.
So I think it’s something where everybody’s kind of slowing the game down, so to be able to minimize the situation and just kind of keep playing. That’s all I’ve been thinking about.
JIMMY KERR: We saw the end of our season right in front of us against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. We were down to our last strike. And I think that kind of made the whole team appreciate every single game that we’ve had together since then.
And that’s kind of the bigger picture. It’s not that we’re playing in a Regional, Super Regional, College World Series championship; it’s just that we get another game with each other.
Q. This team has played really well in the postseason. Just watching the level of play this team has had throughout the College World Series, what’s it been like as a coach? You probably don’t even have to do much coaching out there.
COACH BAKICH: I feel like handed the keys off and letting someone else drive right now and I’m just a passenger. And they’re taking a lot of us for a ride right now.
But we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. What Jimmy referenced, too, a month ago in the Big Ten Tournament, we were playing not to lose the regular season conference title. And we were squeezing it. And you could tell we were just puckered up, and we weren’t playing well.
And now they’re loose and they’re laughing and smiling and having a great time. And they’re not thinking ahead. They’re not making the moment too big like they mentioned. They’re just playing pitch to pitch and competing as hard as they can. And when they make mistakes, they’re aggressive mistakes.
And that’s a sign of a group that isn’t scared and the moment isn’t too big for them and they feel like they have that playground mentality.
So to be able to see — we’re not here if we’re not staring down not even making the postseason a month ago and seeing the difference in how we play. And we’re not here if we don’t get knocked to the ground and have those moments of adversity along the way with the Corvallis Regional meltdown and then the Super Regional Game 2. It’s just all of those experiences have calloused our mind and have made us a very resilient group.
Q. Could you maybe just speak to the value of getting this far for the Big Ten and for northern baseball teams in general? I think 53 years since the Big Ten has been in the CWS final. What does it mean for that region and for that conference?
COACH BAKICH: It’s great for the conference. The conference has grown in baseball. In 2015 it was a coming-out party. We had five teams go to the postseason for the first time ever. We had 53 drafted players, which tied the Pac-12.
And ever since then we’ve done a good job as a conference of sending teams to the postseason, of having players go off to professional baseball or get drafted. And so the more we can do this, I think the more the Big Ten in baseball can continue to grow and be perceived as a major sport on par with some of the other major conferences in baseball.
So it’s a great step. We don’t want 35 years to go by before we get back here. But we don’t recruit that way. We recruit more on par with all the conferences at the top of college baseball. And so the goal for us is to have — hopefully this experience has moved the needle enough to where our program now is consistently competing to have these types of runs.
Q. Talk about the third inning. Seemed to be sort of a microcosm of the whole game where Karl gives up two singles, is-this-going-to-be-a-slugfest kind of game. But he bears down puts a zero up. Bottom half of the inning, bases are loaded, two outs, two strikes on Jesse. He bears down and goes the other way, gets a double and now it’s 6-3. Talk about the momentum of that inning and what it meant to the team.
COACH BAKICH: That was a big inning. They scored three runs. And there were two plays at the plate that I thought very easily could have — not easily, but we could have had outs at the plate to prevent them from scoring. So after two innings you didn’t know what type of game this was going to be, if it was going to be a slugfest or if Karl was going to be able to last past three or four innings.
They got the lead-off hitter on like four out of the first five innings so it was very much in question. In that particular inning there was first — Jung and Warren both singled. Then they bunted and we got a big pop out and that was huge. And then to get out of that inning unscathed and put a zero up, that was big.
And really to get to, to even get to Jesse, to have Ako Thomas and Jordan Nwogu draw the walks that they did with two outs, fouling off pitches, spoiling pitches, just even taking ugly swings, just gritty not pretty, just fighting to see the next pitch to get to the point that Jesse got. And he had to spoil a bunch of pitches. And he worked the count deep and put a very simple swing on that, not trying to do too much.
And that was a huge hit at the time. And it was two of Jesse’s four 2-out RBIs today. He was just as impactful offensively as Jimmy was. And that was the storyline today. Guys just competing every at-bat. Nobody threw their at-bats away today.
Twelve walks today. That’s a lot. And we just had a lot of pressure on the bases just because guys refused to go quietly.
Q. Maybe there’s nothing to this. Feel free to just minimize it if it isn’t, but you guys played about six or seven games, championship-level games at this ballpark in about the last month. Is there any value to that in terms of what it does for your comfort level about maybe minimizing the, quote/unquote, stage that this thing presents and just playing free and easy baseball?
COACH BAKICH: I think there’s a big correlation. Today was our eighth game at this park in the last month. I think that’s a huge advantage. And what we talked about is kind of the same thing that Karl alluded to of not making this bigger than it is.
So the field is the same. TD Ameritrade, between the white lines is exactly the same. The difference between the Big Ten Tournament and the College World Series is the external — the crowd is full, there’s beach balls going everywhere. It’s noisy. It’s just a lot more uncontrollables and external things that are added to it.
The same thing with now we’re going to be playing for a national championship. And today was the game to get to the national championship. We’ve had three days off where we’ve heard about how great we are, and talked about those are all external things.
So if we can just stay centered and make it about baseball and just get back to focusing on how we play, then we’re going to have a lot of success as long as we stay loose. And the guys are doing a really, really good job of that.
Q. Today you saw production up and down your lineup. How did you prepare today for a team you faced before and what does this show about your team?
COACH BAKICH: We’ve been getting a lot of clutch hits and a lot of production up and down the lineup for a while now. So it shows that we’ve got a very balanced lineup. It’s a dynamic lineup because it’s got speed and power. But it’s just got a lot of mature hitters and guys that have good approaches and are focused on quality at-bats more than their own personal staffs and just getting to the next guy and staying connected with each other.
And this is a very good Texas Tech team, and so for us to come out on top against them twice, especially after getting smoked by them at their home park, I think is definitely a credit to how well we’re playing now versus maybe earlier in the year. The guys are just continuing to improve and that’s something we stress is just keep getting better. So our three off days we talked about improvement and getting better.
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