Michigan head baseball coach Erik Bakich talks about Tommy Henry's performance in Game 1 of the College World Series finals June 24, 2019.
Anthony Fenech, Detroit Free Press
OMAHA, Nebraska – John Kerr is not much of a storyteller. Not really a talker
So his grandson, Jimmy, did not hear many stories of Michigan's baseball's legendary 1962 national championship team growing up. But once he arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago and a third-generation UM player – his father, Derek, played for the 1984 team, the school's last to advance to the College World Series – the stories began flowing
In 1962, U-M's first College World Series came against Texas; this year, it was against Texas Tech. That year they beat the State of Florida; this year, the same.
"Too bad Santa Clara is not here this year," Kerr said a week ago
Well, U-M's final foe this year is bigger and badder than Santa Clara. ] Vanderbilt is considered one of the best teams in college baseball, a well-oiled machine with plenty of experience on the game's biggest stage.
Hours after hearing his grandfather's address the team along with former teammate Dick Honig, wearing a light-weight backward version of Team 96's uniforms, Kerr delivered the knock-out blow in a decisive 7-4 win over Vanderbilt. His no-doubt, two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning gave Tommy Henry much more insurance than he needed for his final win as a Wolverine, and now Team 153 – whose rallying cry throughout the NCAA tournament was "We believe" – needs one final win to secure a seismic national championship.
"I do not think it's set in for a lot of us," Kerr said. "We were a team that was really not supposed to be here."
Well, the Wolverines were supposed to be spread out across the country by now, watching the best-of-three finals from wherever they spend their summers. They would not even have been here if not for a two-strike, walk-off win against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament and they certainly were not going to beat No. 1 UCLA at their own yard, or advance to the College World Series finals
And Vanderbilt? The Commodores is Goliath. The Wolverines are David
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Now, they're one win a way. Bakich said. "Do not make this moment too big. We have to shrink the moment, and this is what we've been talking about, shrinking the moment and making it just about baseball and immersing these guys – these guys just need to immerse themselves in each other.
Michigan tops to Vanderbilt,
The Tennessean, Detroit Free Press
But it's there. It was on their minds immediately afterwards, starting with sophomore outfielder Christian Bullock, who yelled, "One more!" Walking into the clubhouse. It's going to be on their minds as they wake up in the morning, and it's on their minds because Henry was outstanding again, closing his UM career with 8th innings of solid pitching.
In the win, Henry allowed four runs on seven hits, but largely neutralized the dangerous Vanderbilt lineup and gave Bakich the length and Game 1 victory he sorely needed. Henry, U-M's junior co-ace, struck out eight batters, walked one, and received a heartfelt message from Bakich upon departure.
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" It was about what he meant to our program, how he emptied the tank and poured his heart and soul into this team and our program, "Bakich said. "I'm glad he's got the ovation he got."
Henry was backed by another relentless performance from his offense, which totally lasted 14 hits and six walks, scoring again in the first inning and tacking on late insurance lows. Jordan Brewer and Blake Nelson drove in the runs in the first and How Thomas and Jesse Franklin drove in runs in the second before the Commodores responded with three runs in the bottom half
Michigan Wolverines starting pitcher Tommy Henry during the first inning against Vanderbilt Commodores in Game 1 of the Championship Series of the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park, June 24, 2019, in Omaha, Neb. (Photo: Bruce Thorson, USA TODAY Sports)
It would be Henry's only struggle. He followed up with three scoreless innings before JJ Bleday hit and home run to lead-off the sixth. With two outs, U-M's defense finally cracked – Jack Blomgren made a throwing error at shortstop – and soon, after a pair of wild pitches, the game-tying run was on the third base
But Henry kept the lead in tact with their biggest pitch of the game, and a slider to strike out Stephen Scott swinging, the Wolverines stuck on some more, and now they are staring down on a feat which seemed improbable – even impossible – a month ago
"They know what they're playing for, "Bakich said. "They know what the stakes are. They know the stage. They know everything. But they are not like the stage and the lights and the moment is too big, because I think they're doing a really good job of just staying in the moment with each other and having as much fun as they can and being loose as they possibly can. "
It was precisely the same message – a message of togetherness – that Kerr's grandpa and teammate preached before the game, in perhaps the most impressive of the pregame messages they have received lately. "It was weird," Kerr said, "It could be the most I've ever heard him talk about.