The key to Michigan’s success: Scoring in the first inning

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 12:04am

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Zachary Goldsmith/Daily

OMAHA, Neb. – Four games. Four first-inning runs. Four first-inning leads.

And now, four wins in the College World Series.

Michigan plays better baseball when it’s ahead. It’s held true all season. But it’s never been truer than it is right now. In their four victories during the College World Series, the Wolverines have scored first – and held on to win each time.

“Scoring first is an offensive goal of ours that we have every game,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “We’ve been fortunate that our guys have put some good at-bats together early in the game and been able to take a lead. We’ll certainly continue to be aggressive to look to get on the board as quick as we can, but that definitely is an advantage and allows us to open up the offense a little more, be more aggressive in certain spots.”

That was certainly the case in the Wolverines’ 7-4 defeat of No. 2 Vanderbilt in the opening game of the College World Series Finals – a win that puts them 27 outs away from bringing home a national title.

Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Nwogu walked on five pitches to lead off the top of the first. He took second on a single from sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin and tried to advance to third. He was thrown out, but the move allowed Franklin to reach second safely. 

That brought up junior right fielder Jordan Brewer, who launched an RBI double down the right field line to score Franklin and put Michigan on top, 1-0. After senior first baseman Jimmy Kerr struck out swinging, senior third baseman Blake Nelson sent a single through the left field gap that allowed Brewer to come home, giving the Wolverines a 2-0 lead and yet another two-out RBI on the season.

Junior left fielder Christian Bullock fouled out two pitches later to end the inning, but the damage was already done and Michigan never trailed again.

“Yeah, I was so excited (to hit that double),” Brewer said. “Once we get going, I knew Tommy Henry – once we gave him the lead, it was lights out for him.

“Coach Snider worked with me, told me to stay on the ball. And I stayed on the ball, and good things happened. And then I had Jesse flying around the bag, so it was awesome.”

Bakich and his team have talked all postseason about playing free, playing aggressive, and most of all, playing loose. Nothing allows them to do that better than playing with a lead. It gives them a chance to relax, to settle into the playing personality it seems they’ve finally found.

The team has constantly harped on the dangers of “playing not to lose.” This approach – coming out of the gates swinging – seems to be the natural opposite of that, and it’s working for the Wolverines.

“It just opens up the offense a little bit when guys are playing in a lead,” Bakich said. “There's some confidence there. There's some mental freedom there.”