Vanderbilt won the 2019 baseball national championship on Wednesday, beating Michigan 8–2 in third game of the best-of-three finals. This was the Commodores’ fourth time making it to the College World Series and their second time winning the national title. Their first championship came in 2014.
Battling on the field wasn’t just two baseball teams, but two coaches who had been coworkers for eight years. The connection between Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin and Michigan coach Erik Bakich started way back in 2002, when they were both assistant coaches at Clemson University. When Corbin became the head coach at Vanderbilt in 2003, he hired Bakich as an assistant. Bakich worked under Corbin for seven years.
The finals was the first time the teams had met with Corbin and Bakich as opposing head coaches.
“It’s always tough to face someone you care about,” Corbin said.
After winning the series against Michigan, Corbin expressed that he wished Bakich was coaching beside him instead of in the opposing dugout.
“I’ve always said, Vanderbilt is not Vanderbilt if Eric Bakich isn’t there,” Corbin said.
Bakich congratulated Vanderbilt on the team’s hard work paying off.
“They were the best team, and I know what they put into it,” he said. “And they certainly deserve it.’
Here is a recap of the CWS best-of-three finals:
Michigan took the lead early in Game 1 and kept it, beating Vanderbilt 7–4 Monday night.
Corbin said his team wasn’t able to recover from Michigan having the early lead.
“We didn’t command the count early, and they jumped us,” Corbin said. “And our inability to get on the right side of the count led them to some very positive situations and aggressive swings.”
Bakich agreed that having an early lead is a boost in confidence for players.
“It’s the name of the game in sport, score first and get a lead and expand a lead or get a lead and keep a lead,” the Wolverines coach said.
One big highlight from the game occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning. The crowd roared when Jordan Brewer threw a ball from rightfield to third base to get Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin out.
Wolverines pitcher Tommy Henry was one of the players who screamed.
“I don’t think I’ve yelled that loud on the baseball field in a long time,” he said.
Henry also joked that he owes Brewer dinner for the amazing play.
Vanderbilt beat Michigan 4–1 in the second game of the finals.
The Commodores brought out freshman pitcher Kumar Rocker. He threw 6 ⅓ innings and struck out 11 Michigan players. Rocker would later be named Most Outstanding Player of the CWS.
“We had the right guy on the mound,” Corbin said.
Rocker made headlines for pitching a no-hitter against Duke in the super regionals, where he struck out 19 batters.
Bakich said that his opponent’s pitcher did not disappoint.
“The big story line tonight was Kumar Rocker,” Bakich said. “He’s as advertised.”
The Wolverines coach said Rocker’s pitches were hard to navigate for batters.
“You try to sit on a fastball, and he throws enough of those breaking balls for strikes. You try to sit on the breaking ball, and he gets you with a 95 mile-an-hour fastball,” Bakich said.
Even though Rocker was a tough opponent for the Wolverines, Bakich said having good players on any college team is good for the sport.
“I’m glad that the college game has players like that in it,” Bakich said. “The college game is better when guys like that come to school.”
Rocker received a standing ovation from Vanderbilt fans when he left the pitching mound for the night.
Michigan had a tough game, including losing its leadoff hitter to injury in the third inning. Designated hitter Jordan Nwogu was injured running to first base on a ground out.He was unable to walk and had to be helped off the field. Bakich said Nwogu had a quad strain, and he would be unable to play in Game 3.
Michigan’s only score for the game was in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Wolverines second baseman Ako Thomas hit a single to leftfield to drive in shortstop Jack Blomgren from second base.
Michigan got on the scoreboard first, but Commodores didn’t let nerves get to them; they came back won 8–2 in the decisive third game.
Vanderbilt senior shortstop Ethan Paul said the win came from the pitchers holding the Wolverines to only two runs, as well as good hitting by Vanderbilt.
“We put good barrels on the ball and scored some runs,” he said.
Paul was one of five seniors on the roster for the Commodores. Looking back on his time at Vanderbilt, Paul said he is grateful for the opportunity to play for the baseball team.
“Four years I’ve been here, and it’s been the best experience of my life,” the 22-year-old said.
The last time Michigan made it to CWS was in 1984; and the last championship at the CWS for the school was in 1962. Being runner-up will help with recruiting and shows that Michigan can compete at the highest level.
“They have inspired future Michigan baseball players that winning a national championship is a possibility,” Bakich said.
No matter what the future holds, the 153rd team to play for the Wolverines will always stand out.
“I think page 153 in the Michigan baseball history book will always be earmarked, will always be referenced,” he said.
Top photograph by Peter Aiken/Getty Images