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Guest MIKE LOPRESTI

1 thing to remember from every game in the 2019 College World Series 2

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Guest MIKE LOPRESTI

Vanderbilt 6, Mississippi State 3: Omaha meets Kumar Rocker.

One sure-fire way to hype the attention for your first College World Series appearance: Throw a no-hitter and strike out 19 in the super regional. That made Kumar’s start the most awaited moment in the first week of the College World Series. His fifth pitch was hit for a single, and he later said his adrenalin was on full-throttle in the first inning. Then he settled down and everyone could see what the fuss was about. He gave up five hits and a run in six innings. “He’s a freshman,” Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum said. “That speaks volumes of his last two starts.”

Texas Tech 4, Florida State 1: Mike Martin’s last bow.
 
For the 17th time, Martin left Omaha with the championship trophy he had chased so long. Only this was the last time. Any chance at a happy ending ended with a feeble Seminoles offense that produced only two runs and 11 hits in three games, and went 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position.  “Our season ended in Omaha,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of folks that wish their season ended in Omaha. I ain’t going to say we never won one, because just getting out here is so much fun . . .  I’ll get through the rest of this night with a smile, because I got to see young men grow up.”

Louisville 4, Mississippi State 3: The Citadel Bowl.
 
Louisville coach Dan McDonnell and Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis were teammates and roommates at The Citadel in the 1990s, and so close as buddies, they were in each other’s weddings. When chance tossed them in the same College World Series game, they both wanted badly to win, without the other having to suffer much. But, oh, how Lemonis felt the pain. A Mississippi State team that had become renowned for its rallying ways — with a nation’s leading 28 come-from-behind victories — saw the other side of baseball fortune. The Bulldogs let a 3-0 lead get away with two Cardinal runs in the seventh and two more in the ninth. Then they shook hands and patted each other’s backs.

Michigan 15, Texas Tech 3: The explosion.
 
Boom, boom, boom. That’s not fireworks, that’s Michigan’s offense. In a College World Series first week of close games, this was the outlier, as the Wolverines bashed their way to their first CWS finals since 1962, and the Big Ten’s first in 53 years. Ten of the runs came with two outs, giving Michigan 14 two-out RBI for the tournament. And it could have been even worse. Michigan not only scored 15 runs, but stranded 14 men on base.  Something special was afoot with these Wolverines.

 Vanderbilt 3, Louisville 2: A hot night in the ol’ ballpark.

The emotions reached the red zone in this one. Louisville pitcher Luke Smith shut down the Vanderbilt bats for eight innings — clearly and loudly enjoying every strikeout of it. The Commodores’ frustration built by the inning. After a few testy exchanges between Smith and Vanderbilt’s Julian Infante — which had the umpires interceding — an inflamed Vandy team batted in the ninth, down 2-1. Three hits led to two runs, knocked Smith from the game and sent Vanderbilt to the finals. “That’s competition,” Vandy’s Ethan Paul said of the on-field emotional bubble-over. “That can bring out a lot in 20-year-old men.”

CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS

Michigan 7, Vanderbilt 4: A maize and blue statement.


It took 57 years for Michigan to get back to the College World Series finals. It took 11 pitches to score and get the lead for good in game 1. All nine Wolverines in the lineup got at least one hit, six drove in at least one run, and Tommy Henry’s pitching shut off any Vanderbilt chance of answering. The quick start had become a Michigan trademark in this tournament. In the first 13 games of the College World Series, the Wolverines scored six runs in the first inning – the other seven teams combined had scored two.
 
“We’re trying to get on base, push the pressure and go at it,” catcher Joe Donovan said. The Commodores had to quickly understand what they were up against.

Vanderbilt 4, Michigan 1: Let’s play three.

Michigan’s chances of a sweep in the finals were gone faster than you could say Kumar Rocker. The freshman phenomenon struck out five of the first six Wolverine batters and gave up one run and three hits in 6.1 innings, striking out 11. Yes, there would be a winner-take-all game 3. It ran his NCAA Tournament line to 4-0, with 44 strikeouts and five walks, and left an intriguing question for post-Omaha: How good is this kid going to be when he’s had time to develop?
 
“He trusts himself, he believes in himself, more importantly, we all believe in him,” closer Tyler Brown said. “He brings a lot of good things to the table. He’s going to be a big leaguer some day. I’m proud to have him as a teammate.”

Vanderbilt 8, Michigan 2: A championship of many feelings.
 
Vanderbilt had the veteran leadership of seven seniors or redshirt juniors who had put off pro ball for this chance. The Commodores had the talent of 13 draft choices. They had the confidence of a team with 58 wins, and the deep emotion of a group that had been scarred and was playing for a fallen teammate. Every bit of that was on display when Vanderbilt pushed past the Wolverines for their second national championship in six years.
 
The Commodores had never wavered from their path, and in the end, played as if they knew the championship was coming all along. “It’s been incredible to watch,” coach Tim Corbin said, and yet, there was a complexity to the moment for him. “I’ve got a lot of conflicting thoughts right now.”
 
One reason was having to beat his former assistant and friend, Erik Bakich of Michigan. Another was the Commodore who wasn’t here. The determination of the seniors partly came from the drowning death of teammate Donny Everett when they were freshman. They have carried his memory ever since. He should have been out there with them.  But his parents were, and the sight of the Vanderbilt family embracing Teddy and Susan Everett on the award stand was a powerful and fitting closing image for the 2019 College World Series.

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