OMAHA, Neb. — Hours before Michigan's Tommy Henry took the mound Monday for Game 1 of the College World Series championship against No. 2 Vanderbilt, his former high school coach was asked how he thought the junior lefty would react to pitching on college baseball's biggest stage.
"If anyone can handle it, it's Tommy," Portage Northern coach Chris Andrews said at the team hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. "He has always, even since he was a freshman, has had that presence on the mound. He will handle it all fine. He has been in huge games before and has that mental make makeup perfect for this situation."
Henry delivered once again for the Wolverines, pitching 8 1/3 innings in a 7-4 victory over the Commodores at TD Ameritrade Park. He allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits whiles striking out eight to put Michigan one win away from its first national championship since 1962.
In the NCAA Tournament, Henry is 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 31 2/3 innings, including a complete game shutout against Florida State in the second game of the CWS.
"I thought it was another gutsy performance by Tommy Henry," Michigan head coach Erik Bakich said. "For him to finish his Michigan career tonight, the way he pitched and to know that he's emptied the tank for three straight years and poured his heart and soul into our program, and we wouldn't be here without him, and to pitch with the flu and pneumonia in Los Angeles (4-2 win vs. UCLA), to do what he did against Florida State, to pitch into the ninth inning tonight, just an incredible performance."
Henry was a second-round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in this month's MLB draft, but redshirt junior Benjamin Keizer, also a Portage Northern grad, saw he was a special talent even before the tall, lanky lefty took the field for the Wolverines.
During the 2015 state championship, Henry threw a whopping 151 pitches against Hartland, allowing one run in eight innings.
"Tommy is a dude," Keizer said. "He is never going to want to come out of the game. He is an absolute competitor. We wanted the ball in his hand, and he did his job tonight. That is all we could ask for."
Michigan outfielder Jordan Nwogu also faced Henry in 2015 as a member of Ann Arbor Pioneer. Nwogu recalls his coach bringing in one of his friends to throw batting practice in hopes of simulating what the team might be facing in a regional semifinal.
Nwogu, the Wolverines' powerful leadoff hitter, struck out and grounded out as Henry pitched Portage Northern to a 10-0 victory.
"I remember the preparation we did," Nwogu said. "We made it a really big deal. He made us nervous. We had one of our coach's old friends come in who threw lefty and threw hard. They made it a really big deal. But he was just as dominant as he is now."
Navigating a high school lineup is not the same as facing one of the top offenses in the country in front of 24,707 fans. But Henry was able to prevent any big innings for the Commodores (57-12).
The Wolverines staked him out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, but Vanderbilt had the tying run at third with two outs in the sixth. Henry struck out Commodores No. 6 hitter Stephen Scott to get out of the inning.
"(Chris) Fetter (pitching coach) has taught us a lot of mental game skills through meditation," Henry said. "If you are ever in the mindset of things slipping away, you know to step off the mound, clear your head and get back into a green-light mindset. You try and stay as in control as you possibly can."
Like he has all postseason, Henry helped protect the Wolverines' bullpen. Sophomore righty Jeff Criswell recorded the final two outs but is available to start Tuesday, Bakich said.
The Wolverines have only used three pitchers during the CWS and have everyone available to pitch except for Henry, according to Bakich.
"We needed a guy to put the team on his back, so to speak," Bakich said of Henry. "He's been a great captain, great leader and an inspiration to a lot of younger pitchers about what hard work looks like." ___
This article is written by Ryan Zuke from MLive.com, Walker, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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