It was a familiar script for Michigan baseball in its NCAA tournament regional final against 13-seed Louisville on Sunday: Pound the ball early, challenge fielders with speed on the bases and force the opponent to swing more often in hopes of a comeback.
The only problem was, it was the Cardinals doing the slugging, and the Wolverines left behind. Louisville put six of its first eight batters on base en route to a four-run first inning and scored in six of the nine innings. The Wolverines had no answers at the plate, though, losing 20-1 to force a winner-take-all game Monday for a spot in the super regional against either Texas A&M or TCU (whose College Station regional final began late Sunday in Texas, with another game Monday also possible).
The regional finale between the Wolverines and Cardinals was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in Louisville, but weather concerns could force the NCAA to move up the start time, with a noon first pitch a possibility.
“If we have to play at noon for the weather, we play at noon,” Cardinals coach Dan McDonnell said. “If they said, ‘You got to play at 9 a.m.,’ we play at 9 a.m.”
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“It was a good old-fashioned butt-whipping, but we’re just gonna flush it,” said Michigan shortstop Riley Bertram, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout Sunday. “Three weeks ago if you would have told Team 156 of Michigan baseball that we’re gonna have a one-game, winner moves to the super regional (opportunity), I think everyone would jump on that.”
Angelo Smith, making his 16th appearance of the season for Michigan, struggled to open the first, walking leadoff hitter Christian Knapczyk on four pitches and plunking No. 3 hitter Dalton Rushing. After a steal of third by Knapczyk, Smith walked DH Jack Payton on six pitches to load the bases. That was enough for Michigan coach Erik Bakich, who summoned freshman Avery Goldensoph from the bullpen.
But whereas every bullpen move made by Bakich in Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Cardinals worked out, this one backfired. Levi Usher singled to center to drive in two runs and, after a walk from Goldensoph to load the bases again and a fielder’s choice at home for the second out, second baseman Logan Beard singled to center for two more runs. Goldensoph struck out No. 9 hitter Ben Bianco to end the inning, but the Wolverines were working from behind.
Louisville starter Riley Phillips had no such issues, mowing down the Wolverines in order with three swinging strikeouts on 14 total pitches.
With the top of the lineup returning in the second, the Cardinals piled on; Knapczyk singled and Ben Metzinger homered to center to make it 6-0 and end Goldensoph’s outing. (Metzinger added a second home run later, hitting a two-run blast to left in the ninth inning.) On came John Torroella, who got a lone out before walking Payton. After a fielder’s choice for the second out and an error on a pickoff attempt to put another runner in scoring position, Cameron Masterman doubled to make it 7-0.
The Wolverines still had few answers at the plate, with only a homer by Joey Velazquez with one out in the third and a leadoff single by Joe Stewart in the fourth tarnishing Phillips’ domination. The sophomore struck out 11 over five innings, with two hits and no walks allowed.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the fourth, on a homer by Masterman to left, and three more in the fifth as six straight Cardinals reached with one out off the fourth pitcher of the day for U-M, Brandon Lawrence. Only Jake Keaser, who entered to start the sixth, was able to staunch the bleeding, throwing two scoreless innings. Keaton Carattini allowed six more runs in the eighth, and Ben Zimmer allowed two in the ninth though both teams were marshalling their resources after five innings for Monday’s win-or-go-home matchup.
The good news for the Wolverines: standout reliever Willie Weiss, who starred in the Big Ten tournament before being suspended for four games by the conference for pitching with a foreign substance, is eligible to pitch again Monday.
The offensive outage for Michigan was just the third time this season the Wolverines have been held to one run or fewer. The others: a 6-1 loss to Oklahoma on Feb. 20, and a 13-1 loss to Louisville on March 13 (in which Phillips struck out nine over six innings).
“Both those days I guess I just felt my best, and obviously I had my curveball working both times,” Phillips said. “It helps having the changeup mixed in there in between.”
Sunday’s result also stood in opposition to the past 21 games for U-M, in which the Wolverines averaged nine runs per game while going 12-9.
Louisville Courier Journal sports writer Brett Dawson contributed to this report.
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