The Game 1 win wasn’t enough to establish momentum for Michigan in the 2019 College World Series finals against Vanderbilt, and the Commodores officially ended the series Wednesday night with an 8-2 win in Game 3. Here’s everything Michigan had to say after its Cinderella season came to an end with a loss at TD Ameritrade Park:
ERIK BAKICH: Well, first off, want to congratulate Coach Corbin, Vanderbilt University, their staff, on earning the national championship. They were the best team, and I know what they put into it, and they certainly deserve it.
I’m very proud of our team. When we talk about leaving a legacy in our program and it’s not about 50 wins or stats or accolades, it’s these two guys to my left here, along with the seniors and the upperclassmen, they have inspired future generations of Michigan baseball players with a belief that winning a national championship is a possibility and getting to Omaha is something that can be done on a consistent basis.
The only way you can have an Omaha program is if you first have an Omaha team, and this is very much a tipping point for us. Very proud of what these guys put in on a daily basis from day one. They were very determined to make that mark and leave that legacy, and everybody says that, but not everybody is willing to do what it takes, and these guys did it on a daily basis.
The effort that they put in will never be forgotten because now everyone coming back and everyone coming in is going to know there are no little things. We’re just going to find a way to get 1 percent better.
But we wouldn’t be in this position without our seniors, without guys like Jimmy and Ako and all of our upperclassmen. Just can’t say enough how proud I am of what they not only have done for this team but the impact this is going to have on future teams.
Q. For both the players, I know this is kind of a tough moment for reflection, it’s all very fresh, but can you maybe look back on these last four years and how far you’ve come and kind of talk about how you’ve seen this program grow?
JIMMY KERR: Yeah, I mean, coming in, we knew it was a competitive program. Competed in the Big Ten the year before we got there, and it’s continued to get better since we’ve been there.
Yeah, right now it sucks. We knew our career would end tonight, but we were hoping it would be in a better way. It’s tough to think about right now, but we’ll look back in maybe not a week, maybe not a month, but years down the road. It’ll be fond memories.
AKO THOMAS: And as for me, just coming into Michigan, not knowing what to expect, coming in as a boy, felt like I definitely left as a man. This program has taught me a lot, taught me how to be a better person, better teammate. Definitely have invested in a lot of good relationships here in my career here.
And like Jimmy said, this one sucks, but we had a really good run. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here, and we fought our butts off, and we’re very proud.
Q. Jimmy and Ako, you guys were kind of known for jumping on teams early on for most of the postseason. You kind of got that start again tonight. Tell us your feelings about your start early on, getting a jump on them, and then how tough it was to get it going again?
AKO THOMAS: Yeah, we came out on the attack. I think it was three hits in a row, scored a run first. We just didn’t execute the way we were supposed to. We were kind of on our heels the rest of the game, didn’t maximize our opportunities. But we fought our hardest out there.
JIMMY KERR: Yeah, I’ve kind of got to point the thumb at that. The last two days in the red zone, I haven’t got it done. I’ve been striking out with runners on base, less than two outs, when my team needed me. We haven’t got the two-out RBIs that we did early on. We didn’t have the clutch hits that we got early on. Yeah, I guess.
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Q. Erik, obviously the loss is pretty fresh here, but do you think you guys doing what you did is kind of a turning point for potentially the Big Ten and northern baseball in general?
ERIK BAKICH: I can just speak for Michigan. It’s a tipping point for Michigan. You know, it’s — I think absolutely for our program — we’ve talked about in a recruiting pitch that Midwest kids don’t need to go south to develop into professional players and to make postseason runs, and we’ve talked about kids from outside of the Big Ten footprint, outside of the Midwest, that they can come to Michigan and have that same experience.
And so for us, we needed a magical type of season. Inside of our locker room, believing is seeing, but maybe externally seeing is believing. From those external things, like recruiting or whatever it may be, yeah, you would think that this type of success, even though we’re not No. 1, will move the needle and tip the scales and allow us to be a program that’s now ignited to where this becomes the standard and the guys believe that they know we can get here and they know we can compete for a national championship. Now they know what it takes to navigate their way through a postseason.
We’re always going to recruit. We’re always going to have good players. It’s one thing to have good players, it’s another thing to play well as a team and play your best when it means the most, and now our guys have experience doing that, and that’s a huge luxury to have.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 27, 2019
Q. Erik, you wanted your team to watch the celebration after the game was over. How frustrating is it — maybe that’s not the right word, but frustrated to get so close to a national title that you can taste it even when a lot of people didn’t expect you to even be at the table?
ERIK BAKICH: Yeah, I mean, we were watching it because there’s only one other team in the country that gets to watch that live. Everyone else is watching it on TV. That’s something that has value for our guys, to see that in person.
We’re also watching it out of respect for Vanderbilt and what they accomplished. It’s a huge moment for them. You know, I already congratulated them on an amazing season, but yeah, those would be the two reasons.
But, yeah, it is — obviously we want to win. We want to be No. 1. We train to be No. 1.
But there’s only one happy team at the end of this. Ako hit on it. What this has done for these guys as people and how it’s going to impact their success, these guys are going to go on, they’re going to be future husbands and future fathers and future community leaders a whole lot longer than they’re baseball players, but the lessons that they learned in our program and through our success in this postseason are going to last with them forever.
Even though we’re not the national champion and we are the national runner-up, I know what it’s going to do for these guys for the rest of their lives, and that’s awesome.
Q. You’ve had great teams at Michigan over the years, but what kind of clicked with this team? What was the difference with this team compared to the teams that you’ve had before?
ERIK BAKICH: Yeah, we have. We’ve had good teams. We’ve had teams that — we had a team that led the nation in draft picks a couple of years ago. You know, you just need — with this team, we had the right leadership with the upperclassmen, and we’ve had good leadership before, but when you haven’t done it before, you need that authentic moment to take place to where it just clicks with everyone and the belief and the confidence that they get from it.
But this team was different. This team from day one in the fall — we didn’t have any off-the-field issues. We didn’t have any academic issues. They set a record for their GPA. It was the first time we’ve had a cumulative program GPA of over a 3.0. Not that I get up here and talk about academics, but just the consistency with which we operated. We didn’t have missed class issues, we didn’t have guys getting in trouble off the field. We just had a very consistent group.
So I thought we would have a chance to be consistent in the season, and I thought they were very deserving. I thought the game — you know, you never know how it’s going to work. You have loaded teams and you finish short, and it just goes to show you that the game doesn’t reward you on your clock, it rewards you on its clock. I just felt like if we just kept working hard, even when we were faltering down the stretch, that moment would arrive. Luckily it did, and it sparked our team.
But I would say if we don’t have the leadership that we have, the captains that we have, the upperclassmen that we have, we would have never even been in that position. So yeah, to answer your question, the leadership within the group and the consistency with which they operated allowed this run to take place.
Q. Coach, you talk about how this season and throughout your time here you want to pay tribute to the previous 152 teams that have come through at Michigan, from the throwback uniforms being one of the examples. Years from now, how do you hope that future Michigan baseball teams are looking back on Team 153?
ERIK BAKICH: Well, I think page 153 in the Michigan baseball history book will always be earmarked, will always be referenced. There’s just so many story lines that have come out of this group of getting knocked down and getting back up and fighting through adversity and just having a bunch of just good dudes. We talk about being a good dude in our program and just a lot of really good kids that do the right thing.
And I think that future teams will always reference back to this particular group as a model of consistency, you know, of how to take care of the littlest of things and having total buy-in, never doubting, even when it would be very easy to doubt, even when we had some slip-ups. But they didn’t, and they stuck with it. They stayed positive, and they got hot when they needed to, and they made the run that we needed to in order to put ourselves in position to be one game away from a national championship.
Yeah, you could look at it just at face value and say this is the best team that Michigan baseball has produced, but in the modern era to do what we did this year is extremely special and I think bodes very well for the future of our program.
Q. Piggy-backing off the future of your program, what do you think this run means for the future of your program in terms of recruiting and coming back to Omaha?
ERIK BAKICH: Yeah, well, I think there’s some ignition that goes with it. There’s probably some young kids watching TV tonight and throughout the Midwest that are now looking at Michigan as the baseball program to go to in the entire Midwest. You’ve got a returning group of players that are saying we want to be the ones on that stage, and we remember all the little things that went into being consistent from the fall to the preseason, throughout the season, of continuing that growth of getting better and getting better, regardless of what the outcomes were in the games.
You’ve got a fan base, an administration and people that touch our program in some way that are saying, wow, this is pretty exciting, we want to do this again. This was a fun ride; how can we make this something that happens on a perennial basis or at least has a chance to.
So I think there’s a definite spark there. This was not some fluke. The way we recruit, the way we develop, the way we’re supported, what Michigan is all about, this is how it should be. Sometimes it takes time. It’s taken us seven years to reach this point. But I feel really good about what lies ahead.