Michigan Breaks the Big Ten’s Glass Slipper

June 15, 2013

For the first time in 30 seasons, a Big Ten program was taking the field in the College World Series. Capturing the attention of the college baseball universe, the upstart Indiana Hoosiers crashed a tournament of bluebloods. Joining Indiana’s first round opponent, Louisville, filling out the tournament bracket were LSU, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oregon State and UCLA. Reaching its first College World Series after knocking off perennial power Florida State, while the front of the Indiana’s gray uniforms read in crimson script HOOSIERS, Cinderella was also a fitting moniker.

It wasn’t just that the boys from Bloomington weren’t supposed to be there, what business did the Big Ten have being in Omaha? This was a year before the conference moved its postseason tournament to TD Ameritrade Park, where Omaha was synonymous for the tournament at the end of June, not the one at the end of May. And unfortunately the place that too often felt it was on Pulto, not in Nebraska.

Before Indiana hosted and won Bloomington Regional and commenced the program’s storybook postseason, a Big Ten program last hosted a regional in 2008, with the Ann Arbor Regional. And that, too, was five years after the last out of NCAA Tournament contest came on a conference field, when Ohio State hosted the 2003 Columbus Super Regional. And while Indiana wasn’t that far removed from NCAA play, the Hoosiers won the 2009 Big Ten Tournament to join Minnesota and Ohio State in regional action, the Big Ten only produced four total NCAA teams between 2010-2012. Before the Power 5 label was in the conscience of sports fans, the Big Ten was a distant cousin of its to-be autonomous conference brethren.

Indiana knocked off Louisville, 2-0, before falling to Mississippi State 5-4 and Oregon State, 1-0, to bow out of the tournament. Kyle Schwarber would go on to be a household name and help the Chicago Cubs win a historic World Series in 2016. Sam Travis would be a second-round pick in 2014, and eventually be joined by teammate Aaron Slegers, the 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, in the big leagues. With the success of individuals going forward and the team’s tight contests with the best of the best, Indiana removed all doubt and proved it belong there. But there was one question that would go unanswered as Indiana bowed out and the clock struck midnight: What would happen to Cinderella?

Realizing a the possibility of a new reality for Big Ten programs, was Indiana’s run just a great story where generational talents spearheaded a once-a-generation feat? Was this truly the dawn of a new day in Big Ten baseball? Would the glass slipper return and another long-shot from the Midwest return? Or would it be left behind for another 30 years?

 

June 15, 2019

Six years to the day of Indiana’s victory over Louisville, the Big Ten claimed another two-run victory of an Omaha staple. After cutting the Big Ten’s College World Series drought by 80% over its last period of absence, Michigan knocked off Texas Tech, a team appearing in its fourth College World Series in six years, 5-3. The outfit of Wolverines that have led the program to the College World Series for the first time since 1984 are similar to those Hoosiers in many ways.

Where Indiana had a potent 1-2 punch that served as the catalyst to the team’s success, Schwarber and Travis, Michigan has a pair of top two round picks of their own, with Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann leading a rotation that can go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Michigan’s run saw them advance through a regional with a household name, Oregon State, just like Indiana turned away a Bloomington Regional field that saw Florida in it. And where IU went on the road and knocked off heavy favorite Florida State in super regional play to reach the pinnacle, Michigan grabbed two games against the tournament’s top overall seed, UCLA. In fact, in addition to knocking off #1 UCLA, one wouldn’t be wrong to say Michigan was more of an underdog to reach Omaha than Indiana.

An underdog they may be, but here’s where Michigan and the state of the Big Ten diverges from 2013: this isn’t a Cinderella story. The Wolverines aren’t coming from a home that’s looked down on and an outcast.

In the five previous years before the Big Ten’s last College World Series appearance, there was just the one, 2008 Ann Arbor, NCAA Regional on a conference campus. What’s happened in the five years before Erik Bakich, the NCBWA National Coach of the Year, has guided Michigan to college baseball’s final destination? Indiana hosted the 2014 Bloomington Regional as number fourth national seed. Illinois hosted the 2015 Champion Regional and Super Regional as the tournament’s sixth overall seed. Minnesota hosted and won the 2018 Minneapolis Regional. Only once, in 2014, did the Big Ten fail to produce three Regional teams, while twice placing five teams in the NCAA Tournament, 2015 and 2017.

And now, in 2019, the Big Ten is another five-bid conference, matching the number of teams placed in a regional by the Big XII and Pac 12. With Michigan knocking off Texas Tech, they stepped into the same batter’s boxes and on the same pitching mound as a team from a conference the Big Ten is now a peer of. Over the last five NCAA Tournaments, the Big Ten has produced 22 regional-bound clubs, just one off 23 the Big XII and Pac 12 have produced.

Michigan’s second round contest is against the same team Indiana knocked off to turn the college baseball world upside down, Florida State. A win for the Wolverines would do the same, and put Michigan in the driver’s seat of their bracket, within them three victories from claiming the program’s first national title since 1962 and the Big Ten’s first since Ohio State won it all in 1966. As one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament, a Michigan victory certainly would elicit more stories of the little team that could, of the mighty underdog and perhaps a few mentions of Cinderella story in a story here or there.

If that is the case, the glass slipper is indeed placed upon the Wolverines, it’s time for them to destroy it once and for all. Michigan has proved the conference is now in the same neighborhood as the home of those blueblood elites, ending the season in the place where the preseason favorite should. Regardless of whether Michigan wins it all or finishes with the same 1-2 showing as Indiana, the ending of this story doesn’t change. There’s no concern of what happens when the clock strikes midnight, the Big Ten has proven it is and will be back.

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