One game is in the books in the 2019 College World Series finals. Michigan is one win away from the national championship and Vanderbilt is fighting for its Omaha survival.
First pitch between Vanderbilt and Michigan is coming your way at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN. Let’s take a look at what each team needs to do in Game 2 to win tonight.
How Vanderbilt can force Game 3 of the CWS finals
We probably sound like a broken record. The key to anyone beating this Michigan team is keeping the top of its lineup off the scoreboard early. There have been eight first-inning runs scored in the 2019 College World Series and Michigan has accounted for six of them.
It sounds simple, right? Score more runs than the other team before they do. But there’s more to it. Michigan has shown that its arsenal of Karl Kauffmann, Tommy Henry and Jeff Criswell may be the best Big Three in the nation. When you give those guys an early lead and let them get comfortable while pitching around the few mistakes they make, it seems a near impossibility to beat them.
So, that means Vandy’s key to winning is the big guy on the bump Tuesday night. Kumar Rocker is big in the literal sense, standing at 6’4 and 255 pounds, but he’s also big in the spotlight. Rocker has turned himself into an ace before our eyes this NCAA tournament with clutch start after clutch start. He’s basically working two pitches — a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a breaking ball that touches not many bats — and has been a nightmare to figure out. The Vandy Boys’ bats were alive and well Monday, with JJ Bleday finally finding that home-run swing. If Rocker can set the tone in the first inning, this vaunted Vanderbilt offense could get going and get into a bullpen that has barely been used since super regionals.
There’s only one problem. No one has done that so far.
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How Michigan can sweep its way to the 2019 CWS title
Don’t. Change. A. Thing.
Much has been made about the way Michigan is winning much more than the fact that it is winning. The Wolverines are loose. The Wolverines are having fun. And most of all, the Wolverines are dangerous.
“I’m beyond excited to see what kind of stuff he has,” Jordan Brewer said about facing Rocker. Who says that? Who is excited to face a guy so zoned in, so dominant that he struck out 22 batters in a row swinging?
Team 153, that’s who.
Michigan has the confidence that it takes to win a national championship. That’s what Vanderbilt has to figure out how to do: stop that swagger. Jimmy Kerr — looking to add to his own family’s history book as well as Michigan lore — has more home runs the past two weeks in Omaha than he did in his first three years of college. Tommy Henry, who stumbled just a bit in early May, has been cruising since, giving Michigan 17.1 of the best innings pitched in the CWS this year. And now, after shocking college baseball by taking down No. 1 UCLA, the Wolverines have No. 2 on the ropes, forcing Vanderbilt to play its first elimination game of 2019.
So, the key to becoming the 26th champion to sweep through the College World Series field? Michigan needs to come out and play its style right from the start today more than ever. For the first time this CWS, there will likely be a different starter on the bump, unless Kauffmann does indeed have a rubber arm.
Erik Bakich didn’t reveal much postgame, saying it could be Criswell — who has been lights out in his first turn as a closer in the NCAA tournament — or a game of bull-penning. That could be advantageous to Michigan and give Vanderbilt a look no one has seen in Omaha thus far. The Wolverines have only used their three starters. It could also hurt Michigan, throwing a combination of pitchers that haven’t thrown the ball in nearly two weeks.
None of that will matter if this aggressive top five in the lineup come out and do their thing. And that’s the key to the CWS title on Tuesday for Michigan.