OMAHA, Neb. — Michigan defeated Vanderbilt 7-4 Monday night in Game 1 of the 2019 College World Series finals. The Wolverines are now one win away from claiming their first national title since 1962.
Here are three takeaways from Monday's finals opener.
1.) Michigan's Jimmy Kerr is the frontrunner for the MOP award
Jimmy Kerr is on an absolute tear in Omaha. The senior first baseman, and third-generation Michigan star, is the first Wolverine with three home runs in a College World Series. After his two-run shot in the seventh inning Monday night, he's up to a CWS-best eight RBIs.
Vanderbilt had just trimmed the lead to a single run in the sixth when Kerr deposited a hanging breaking ball deep into the right field stands for two loud insurance runs.
Kerr finished 1-for-5 with two strikeouts around his one huge homer. After the game, Kerr said that the Michigan offense feels no pressure right now with the way the pitchers are rolling in Omaha (1.50 ERA).
"Yeah, it was a big hit, but we're not worried about putting up too many runs because we trust our pitchers," Kerr said.
Every Wolverine in Monday's lineup picked up at least one hit, but Kerr continues to come up with the biggest ones. He's now batting .389 (7-for-18) with three homers, a triple, six runs scored and eight driven in. He leads all CWS players with 19 total bases.
2.) Vanderbilt's explosive offense is suddenly in a bit of a rut
Vanderbilt's offensive struggles were hidden a bit by its 3-0 start to College World Series play. While the Commodores have seen some big-time individual performances on this stage, their balanced attack hasn't been quite there in Omaha.
Vanderbilt scored four runs or less for the fourth time in five games at the College World Series. The Commodores have yet to break double digits in the hit column in any game. This comes in a season where Vandy leads the nation in home runs and is in the top 10 with an average of more than eight runs per game.
JJ Bleday is batting .384 and hit his first homer in CWS play Monday night, and Austin Martin and Stephen Scott both had two-homer games earlier in bracket play. But the Commodores are getting little support elsewhere in the lineup. Their two-run second inning Monday was just their fifth multi-run frame in 36 innings. For comparison, Michigan's hot offense had five crooked numbers just this past Friday against Texas Tech in the semifinals.
Vanderbilt left 12 runners on base Monday night against Tommy Henry and Jeff Criswell. Coach Tim Corbin and Bleday both credited Henry's aggressiveness and ability to throw strikes early in the count in keeping the Commodores off balance.
"He just pounded the strike zone," Bleday said. "When you pound the strike zone and you throw a lot of strikes, you force guys to hit, and that can get guys out of their zone, and it can force you to do a little bit too much."
3.) Michigan continues to play near-flawless defense
Before shortstop Jack Blomgren's off-line throw in the sixth inning Monday night, Michigan was the only team without an error in the 2019 College World Series. And despite that minor miscue, Michigan continues to make impact plays in the field.
Monday's prime example came in the eighth inning on Vanderbilt leadoff man Austin Martin's attempt to go first to third on an Ethan Paul single. Right fielder Jordan Brewer delivered a laser of a throw on the fly to catch the speedy Martin for a big second out in the frame.
The out helped keep Michigan's lead at four and allowed Henry to navigate through the eighth inning at 106 pitches.
"I don't think I've yelled that loud on the baseball field in a long time. I mean, just how big of a spot it was, how tough of a throw it was, and how easy he made it look was awesome," Henry said. "It was a huge moment, a huge momentum swing. Yeah, I owe him dinner or something."
Game 2 of the 2019 College World Series is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET Tuesday night.