Michigan drew first blood in the College World Series, leading wire-to-wire in a 7-4 victory over Vanderbilt Monday night in Omaha. The Wolverines are 27 outs away from their first national championship since 1962, as well as the first baseball title for a Big Ten team since 1966.
Game 2 will take place Tuesday night at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. This championship series is best-of-three, so should the Commodores even things up tonight, the final game would take place Wednesday night (7 p.m. EST, ESPN).
The College World Series has one of the more unique playoff formats in sports, as the “World Series” portion is not just between two teams. Let’s look at how everything in this year’s NCAA Tournament shook out leading up to this point.
College World Series & NCAA Tournament Format
The NCAA Tournament starts with 64 teams, with 31 of them automatically qualifying as conference champions. The rest are at-large teams.
In the case of Michigan, the selection committee considered them the fourth-to-last team to sneak into the field. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt earned the No. 2 overall seed after winning the SEC Tournament and posting a 49-10 record.
16 teams host regionals, which pits four teams against each other in a double-elimination round. One team emerges from each regional to enter the next round, which is called the Super Regional.
Michigan topped Cincinnati and Creighton twice to reach the Super Regional, including a 17-6 rout in the final game over the Blue Jays. Vanderbilt ousted Ohio State and Indiana State in a clean sweep.
The Super Regional is another double-elimination round, but this time it’s only between two teams. Michigan, as a No. 3 seed, had to travel to Los Angeles to face No. 1 overall seed UCLA. The Wolverines won the first and third games to spring the upset and clinch the program’s first College World Series appearance since 1984.
After the Commodores dropped their first game 18-5 to visiting Duke, they won the next two by a combined score of 16-2 to advance.
The College World Series is divided into two rounds. The first one is a double-elimination round robin between four teams on each side of the bracket (eight overall). The winners of those rounds meet in the final championship series, which as mentioned already is best-of-three.
The Wolverines bested Florida State and Texas Tech (twice) on the back of superior pitching. Karl Kauffman allowed just six runs in two outings versus the Red Raiders, while Tommy Henry threw a complete game shutout against Florida State. Both are MLB Draft picks.
Vanderbilt got past SEC rival Mississippi State, as well as Louisville, to reach the finals for the first time since 2015. The Commodores won the national title in 2014.
Here’s a full explanation of the College World Series format courtesy of NCAA.com.
Who Pitches Tonight in Game 2 of the College World Series?
For Vanderbilt, the answer is easy: Kumar Rocker. The son of former NFL lineman Tracy Rocker threw a no-hitter and 19 strikeouts to beat Duke in the Super Regional and is coming off six days of rest.
For Michigan, head coach Eric Bakich has been more cagey about it.
It’ll either be a righty or lefty tomorrow, that’s what I could tell you,” Bakich joked to NCAA.com. He did state that Jeff Criswell, who finished the ninth inning of Game 1, will be available for the start.
For his part, Criswell wants the ball in his hands for what could be a historic night for the Wolverines, let alone all of Midwestern baseball. According to D1 Baseball, he has a 7-1 record, 2.60 ERA and 109 strikeouts on the season.
If its not Criswell, Kauffmann has had four days of rest and could conceivably go. Bakich probably would rather go with his ace for a decisive Game 3.
UPDATE: Bakich is going to go with Isaiah Page at the start, and possibly switch to Criswell for extended relief, according to Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball.