OMAHA — The unlikely has seemed commonplace for the 2019 Michigan baseball team, and Monday night was no exception.

The Wolverines, who weren’t supposed to get through the Oregon State regional or the UCLA super regional -- and certainly not go undefeated in their first three games at the College World Series -- added another notch to their historic run with a 7-4 victory over Vanderbilt at TD Ameritrade Park on Monday to put them just one win away from the program’s first title in 57 years.

“This started a month ago; the realization that if we play not to lose, we lose, and when we play loose and compete as best we can, shift the target from being tight, we’re successful,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said.

“These guys were staring the end of their season right in the face. Down to their last strike and not having any postseason, so the perspective they have is every day is another day together. They’ve truly celebrated each day of the postseason as if it were a gift.”

It didn’t take long for the Michigan magic that has been so prevalent during the Wolverines' unprecedented run over the past six weeks to strike in the opening game of the CWS championship series. Jordan Brewer and Blake Nelson both recorded RBIs in the top of the first inning in front of a packed crowd to give Michigan a lead it would never give up despite some fight from the Commodores.

Two more runs came in the top of the second for the Wolverines on a single from Ako Thomas and a fielder’s choice from Jesse Franklin to push the lead to 4-0.

Vanderbilt responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning and tacked on another in the sixth to make the Wolverine faithful sweat, but the three-run rally wasn’t enough to take the momentum away from a Michigan team that’s had to play with its back against the wall since the Big Ten Tournament.

Brewer picked up a one-out single in the top of the seventh before Jimmy Kerr, whose grandfather and father both played in the College World Series for Michigan, unloaded on his team-leading 15th home run of the season and third in Omaha to reestablish a multiple-run lead for the Wolverines.

Joe Donovan followed Kerr’s lead with his ninth home run of the season in the top of the eighth, and the four-run lead was more than enough to see the Wolverines through to a victory.

“Other than that (home run) at-bat I had four pretty rough at-bats, so it wasn’t my best day at the plate. But when you have Tommy (Henry) on the mound, we’re not too worried about scoring too many runs,” Kerr said. “We have so much trust in this pitching staff that we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. If we get them a one- or two-run lead, that’ll be enough, so it was a big hit, but that wasn’t our worry because we trust our pitchers.”

Tommy Henry put in a performance that will certainly be memorable in Michigan lore as he fired 8 1/3 innings of four-run baseball to claim the win and push the Wolverines closer to the first national championship in baseball by a Big Ten team since 1966.

“I thought the difference tonight was Tommy Henry,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “He filled up the strike zone. He did a good job of limiting damage when he had to. When he was in a little bit of trouble, he was able to negate our offense. He didn’t allow many baserunners and he limited our action with his fastball and off-speed.”

Teams that have won the first game of the best-of-three series have gone on to win 11 of the 16 titles since the tournament made the move to the best-of-three format.

First pitch for Game 2 of the series is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or scarlson@journalstar.com.


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