The Michigan Wolverines picked up where they left off following their 15-3 win over Texas Tech on Friday by defeating Vanderbilt 7-4 in Monday night's Game 1 of the 2019 College World Series Finals at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
The win grants Michigan's a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Michigan jumped on Vanderbilt starting pitcher Drake Fellows right away by scoring two in the top of the first inning, and it marked the fourth straight game in which the Wolverines plated at least one run in the first inning.
Wolverines pitchers entered Monday's game 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 25 strikeouts in Omaha, Nebraska, and Tommy Henry continued their dominant streak on the mound. The junior southpaw tossed 8.1 innings and struck out eight before leaving to a standing ovation.
That said, Vanderbilt did make a run at Michigan's lead in the bottom of the second, scoring on a Ty Duvall single and a passed ball.
Fellows was chased out of the game in the top of the sixth after allowing four runs and striking out seven, but J.J. Bleday, the 2019 No. 4 overall pick of the Miami Marlins and Division I home run leader, smashed a solo shot in the bottom of the sixth to cut Michigan's lead to 4-3.
The Wolverines kept their composure and answered in the top of the seventh with a two-run homer from Jimmy Kerr, his third of the College World Series—a Michigan record. Joe Donovan piled on with a solo shot of his own in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom half of the frame, down 7-3, Vanderbilt threatened again. With one out and one on, Ethan Paul singleld to right field where Jordan Brewer gathered the ball and threw out Austin Martin at third. Henry ended the inning one batter later with a strikeout, effectively ending Vanderbilt's rally before it really started.
Jeff Criswell closed Game 1 for the Wolverines and is expected to take the mound as Michigan's starter in Game 2. His only allowed run was from a sacrifice fly, and he collected his fourth save of the season—all of which have come in the College World Series.
Kumar Rocker will start for Vanderbilt.
Since the best-of-three format was introduced to the College World Series in 2003, 11 of 16 national champions won Game 1, according to NCAA.com. However, reigning champion Oregon State won two in a row after losing the first game just last year.
Vanderbilt is more than capable of following suit, starting with Rocker on the mound Tuesday night. The freshman sensation became the first to toss a no-hitter in Super Regionals history on June 8 in a win-or-go-home situation against Duke. He struck out 19 batters.
Michigan, though, is a different beast than Duke. The Wolverines, along with Duke, were one of the Last Four selected into the NCAA tournament. Since then, Michigan has unseated No. 1 overall seed UCLA to advance to the College World Series.
Now, the Wolverines are one win away from defeating the No. 2 overall seed for their first national championship since 1962. The rest of the college baseball world may be shocked, but Michigan head coach Erik Bakich assured ESPN.com's Ryan McGee that he and his team are not:
"We certainly don't look at ourselves as some sort of Cinderella story. These guys believe they should be here. I think if you've really watched them over the last month, you've seen that attitude develop. They just want to play ball, and they want to do it together as long as they can. Every win is one more day that they get to stay together. That's the goal they're focused on, not where we are or who we're playing or what people think of our chances. Because of that, they aren't intimidated by Omaha or anywhere else."
While this is Michigan's first trip to Omaha since 1984, Vanderbilt was crowned champion in 2014 and lost in the finals to Virginia in 2015. This year's Commodores squad set an SEC record with 13 MLB draft picks and has lost back-to-back games only twice, according to MLive.com's Ryan Zuke.
Michigan is on a roll, but Vanderbilt won't lay down easy.
In other words, buckle up for Game 2.
Game 2's first pitch is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET from TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.