Impressive wins earn 2019 runner-up Michigan a No. 1 ranking

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              FILE - In this May 21, 2019 file photo, Michigan coach Erik Bakich speaks during a news conference ahead of the Big Ten NCAA college baseball tournament, in Omaha, Neb. Michigan showed no sign of being a one-hit wonder on the first weekend of the college baseball season. The 2019 national runner-up Wolverines knocked off top-10 opponents Vanderbilt and Arizona State and finished their trip to the Phoenix area with a 3-1 record. The success in the desert earned Michigan a move into the top 10 in the major polls Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
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Michigan showed no signs of being a one-hit wonder on the first weekend of the college baseball season.

The 2019 national runner-up Wolverines knocked off top-10 opponents Vanderbilt and Arizona State and finished their trip to the Phoenix area with a 3-1 record.

The success in the desert earned Michigan the No. 1 ranking by Baseball America on Monday, and the Wolverines are a consensus top-10 team in the other polls.

The question entering the season was whether there would be a drop-off for a team that got hot at the right time last year. The Wolverines barely made the 64-team NCAA Tournament, reached the College World Series for the first time since 1984 and made a run to the finals, losing to Vanderbilt in three games.

“Every time you do it the first time, people just label it a ‘Cinderella run,’” coach Erik Bakich said Monday. “That’s the natural reaction from fans and most people, but even sometimes with players and administrators and everybody really. Seeing is believing.”

Bakich said he sensed in fall practices that his players were still hungry after coming up just short of the program’s first national title since 1962. The team lost its No. 1 and 2 starting pitchers and Big Ten player of the year Jordan Brewer, among others.

Jeff Criswell is back to anchor the rotation and catcher Joe Donovan, shortstop Jack Blomgren and outfielder Jordan Nwogu are among key returning players.

“You don’t always know who the breakout guys are going to be,” Bakich said, “but I think we saw a glimpse of some guys who showed flashes of what’s to come.”

Fifth-year senior and new starting first baseman Matt Schmidt hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning Friday to beat Vanderbilt 4-3 and junior Blake Beers, mostly a reliever last year, pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in an 8-5 win over Cal Poly on Saturday.

Then redshirt freshman Steven Hajjar, who missed last season with a torn ACL, struck out seven and held Arizona State’s potent offense scoreless on three hits over six innings of a 5-0 win Saturday night.

The Wolverines lost 7-1 on Sunday to 2019 regional finalist Connecticut. “We kind of ran out of gas,” Bakich said.

What Bakich called an “ambitious” schedule continues this weekend in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Michigan will play three more games against UConn. Next week it’s off to the West Coast for a total of eight games against Cal Poly (three), Stanford (one), California (one) and Pepperdine (three).

IN THE POLLS

Louisville and Vanderbilt, the preseason co-No. 1s, each went 1-2 on opening weekend. Louisville lost a series at Mississippi. Vanderbilt beat UConn in between one-run losses to Michigan and Cal Poly.

Michigan rose to No. 1 for the first time in the 40-year history of the Baseball America Top 25. D1Baseball.com has Miami and Florida ranked Nos. 1 and 2. Those teams meet in Coral Gables, Florida, this weekend. Collegiate Baseball newspaper has Texas Tech No. 1 after the Red Raiders outscored overmatched Houston Baptist and Northern Colorado 65-11 over four games.

MISSISSIPPI MAGIC

Ole Miss isn’t hospitable when top-ranked opponents visit Oxford. The Rebels have won all five of their home series against No. 1 teams under 20th-year coach Mike Bianco. In addition to taking two of three from Louisville this past weekend, they’ve won home series against Florida (2015, 2012), South Carolina (2011) and Georgia (2009).

YOUNG TALENT

Texas Tech freshmen put up eye-popping numbers, albeit against less-than-stellar opponents. Nate Rombach had five homers and 15 RBIs in four games, with three of his long balls coming against Houston Baptist on Saturday. Jace Jung hit two homers and drove in 13 runs over the weekend, T.J. Rumfield went 7 for 12 (.583) and Cal Conley was 7 for 17 (.412) with seven RBIs.

ALL HAIL HINCHMAN

Tennessee Tech’s Jason Hinchman, second in the nation with 24 homers last season, went deep five times in a three-game sweep of Evansville. He hit three Sunday, when the Golden Eagles rallied from an eight-run deficit. Hinchman homered in the sixth and seventh innings as Tech pulled within 10-7. Luke Jones homered to tie it 10-all in the ninth, and Hinchman followed with a drive over the center-field fence for a walk-off 11-10 win.

LONG TIME COMING

TCU starter Russell Smith worked 4 2/3 strong innings against Kentucky in his first appearance in 631 days. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound left-hander retired the first 12 batters he faced Sunday and allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits. He walked one and struck out five. Smith got a no-decision in the 10-5 win. He previously pitched May 26, 2018, missing last season after having Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2018.