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CN Goes to the B1G City: Big Ten Baseball Tournament Championship

Can Rutgers win the first Big Ten Tournament they’ve ever played in? Will the thousands of Iowa fans boost the local economy by crying into beers at local bars?

We started an incredibly windy Championship Sunday with the necessary “if necessary” game between Iowa and Michigan, with the winner set to take on Rutgers in the Championship Game. Rutgers is coming off a late night, starting a game at near midnight, having a weather delay at 1:48am, and concluding the game just shy of 3:15am. While Iowa and Michigan were just trying to piece together formidable pitching staffs in the early game of the day. Let’s take a look!

#3 Iowa - 1

#5 Michigan - 13

To start the rematch, Iowa turned to their bullpen ace stopper in Brody Brecht, he of the 99 mph fastball and 44 Ks in just over 22 innings. It was apparent he couldn’t find the zone early, he walked 2 batters as part of his 11 balls vs 2 strikes on balls not put in play before he was lifted after getting only 1 out. Michigan used their opportunity on the basepaths to the fullest, scoring 2 runs on a pair of RBI singles.

Michigan turned to usual Friday night starter Conor O’Halleron. He allowed the occasional baserunner, but really kept the Iowa offense at bay through the early portion of the game, allowed only 1 unearned run in 4 innings of work.

The Wolverines threatened again in the 4th, loading the bases with no outs. They used 2 back to back sacrifice flys, the first of which would have been a grand slam, if the wind was at 15 mph instead of 25-30.. Nevertheless they took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the inning.

It was then that Iowa mounted the first real threat of their own. With a runner on 2nd, Iowa hit a ball to the SS, but the throw got away from the first baseman far enough to allow the runner to get to third. However the runner that slid into first thought the base coach was telling him to advance a base and took of for 2nd. The Michigan first baseman calmly picked up the ball and fired it to 2nd, where the easy tag was applied. Iowa did end up making it a 4-1 ballgame, but ran themselves out of at least 1 run.

After Michigan went quiet in the 5th, they turned to struggling former closer Willie Weiss on the mound and that’s when things got interesting! Weiss there a couple pitches and then someone from the Iowa dugout shouted something at the umpires, which caused them to conference. The crew chief walked over to Weiss asked for his glove, touched the pinky on it, said something to another umpire, and immediately threw Weiss out for a foreign substance. Upon review, you could see Weiss act like he was going for the ball in his glove and touch his pinky on his glove, act like he missed grabbing the ball, and the re-reach in for the ball.

All this seemed to spark Michigan, after allowing the new pitcher Cam Weston as much time as needed to warm up, they made quick work of the Hawkeye offense. Then, when the Wolverine offense came to bat in the 7th, they went off. A 2 RBI double, followed by a 3 RBI double, a 3 RBI triple, and a sac fly sandwiched around 6 walks in the inning pushed the score to 13-1. This brought the run rule into effect, and they quickly dispatched the Iowa hitters to punch their ticket to the championship game. And Bakich gets to avoid the questions in the press conference for a few more hours.

Championship Game

#2 Rutgers - 4

#5 Michigan - 10

In a game where the pitching is about at its end for both teams, and each offense is coming off of a game where they 10-runned an opponent, a high scoring game was expected.

As they’ve done all tournament, Michigan got off to a quick start, thanks to their 1 and 2 hitters, Clark Elliott and Joe Stewart. They started off the game with a single, and a double and were brought in with a sacrifice fly and an RBI single to make the score 2-0. The Wolverines have put up 7 runs in the first inning of games, compared to zero for their opponents.

Rutgers would plate a run of their own off of a solo shot from hard-hitting freshman Josh Kuroda-Grauer. Into the teeth of the infamous wind stream coming in from RF at this park, he hit it just enough to get over the wall. And an RBI triple from Santa Maria gave them a run in the 3rd.

Michigan would then go on a run of scoring in three straight innings. A perfectly executed suicide squeeze gave them back the lead in the 4th. Joe Stewart drilled a double in the 5th and was brought in on an RBI single. And a passed ball on a swinging strike 3 would allow a run to score in the 6th extending the lead to 5-2.

Rutgers threatened again in the bottom of the 6th, loading the bases via a single and 2 walks from Michigan reliever Jacob Denner, but Denner got a big called strike 3 to end the inning without any damage done and finished his day giving up 1 run on 3 hits, while striking out 7 in 4.1 innings of work. Big day by that kid! In a show of how tired all these pitching staffs are, Rutgers would load the bases full of Wolverines, all walks, in the 7th, but they failed to score as well.

Rutgers did get a run back in the 7th, bringing the game to 5-3. Lasko reached base on a throwing error by the SS. Took an aggressive run from first to third on a single, and was brought in on a sac fly.

The big blow came in the 8th, when Michigan had 2 runners on and catcher Jimmy Obertop hit his 3rd home run of the tournament, a 3 run bomb to left center, and put Michigan on top 8-3. (Side note, the All-Tournament team ballots were due by the middle of the 8th, so I’d like to humbly apologize to Obertop for leaving him off.) Rutgers added a run in the inning as 1B Chris Brito doubled to left and was brought home on a couple of productive outs.

Michigan could do no wrong today though. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Michigan tried 2 straight sac bunts, and sent both runners on the second attempt to the plate scoring each. They then made extremely quick work of Rutgers in the 9th. And then everyone favorite…

DOG PILE

Michigan is Big Ten Champions

Michigan wins the Big Ten Conference Baseball Tournament for the 10th time, their first since 2015, and secures the automatic bid to the NCAAs. This all but ensures the Big Ten will have 3 teams in the NCAA tournament field, and closes any tiny window Iowa may have had to sneak in.

B1G All-Tournament Team

In looking at the All-Tournament team, I had no big disputes other than Michigan’s SS and 3B having worse fielding stats than the two Rutgers guys with reasonably close offensive stats. But all you people care about is the long ball! And the champs usually get a little more clout.

Final Thoughts

This tournament will long be remembered for how the weather wiped out the entire first day, forcing the tournament to condense everything into 4 days. 3 nights in a row where games ended at 2:16am, 1:30am, and 3:14am. Not only was that awful for fans (and media and staff) but unfair for the teams as well. Of the 6 teams to play in those late games, only 1 was able to win the following day, and that was Michigan, who played in the first two late night games.

Should the tournament have been changed? Or at least a 2nd facility used for one game per day? Tal Anderson Field or Werner Park are two nice facilities that may have been available for a night or two. The tournament is contracted to be in Omaha for the next two years (with nothing contracted beyond 2024), so a backup should be able to be discussed for the future.

After the game Coach Bakich was asked how this compares going into the NCAAs like his 2019 team that made it all the way to the CWS Championship Series. He said that this team, like 2019, had its ups and downs, thought this years were more extreme than in 2019. But they both got hot offensively at the end of the year, and relied on making big plays using both small ball and the home run.

That wraps up B1G Baseball for another season. Time to sit back and hate watch all those Southern schools trying to get up to Omaha. But lets all do this again next year. And maybe we can include the Husker team as well!