Tommy Henry Pitches Michigan To Victory At CWS

Image credit: Michigan lefthander Tommy Henry (Photo by Tomas DeRosa)

OMAHA — Perhaps no pitcher in the country started the season as well as Michigan lefthander Tommy Henry. He threw six scoreless innings against Binghamton on Opening Day and threw a one-hit shutout at The Citadel the next week. He ran his scoreless innings streak to 25 before UCLA finally snapped it in his fourth start of the season, though Henry led the Wolverines to an upset of the No. 2 team in the country anyway.

Henry threw six scoreless innings against Manhattan the following week in Michigan’s home opener, but by then his mechanics were starting to falter. He was knocked around at Texas Tech the following weekend, beginning a rough series for Michigan that saw it get swept and an up-and-down couple of months for Henry. At times, pitching coach Chris Fetter said, Henry would flash glimpses of the pitcher he had been the first month of the season. But at others, it wasn’t the same at all and he got bumped back in the rotation.

Through it all, however, Henry kept working, kept trying to recapture his early season form. And, just in time, the junior found it. In the Big Ten Tournament against Maryland, Fetter felt like Henry had all of his weapons back. He delivered a quality start that day and went into the NCAA Tournament with some momentum. He capitalized on that, turning in a quality start in the winners’ bracket game of the Corvallis Regional against Creighton and then again in Game 3 of the Los Angeles Super Regional against UCLA, the No. 1 overall seed, to send Michigan to Omaha.

But Henry had saved his best for last. On the big stage of the College World Series and facing Florida State in the winners’ bracket game, he on Monday threw a three-hit shutout, flummoxing the Seminoles’ potent lineup. Michigan defeated Florida State, 2-0, to advance to Friday’s bracket final, where it awaits the winner of an elimination game between Texas Tech and Florida State.

The Wolverines are one win away from playing for a national championship and the first Big Ten team to start 2-0 at the CWS since Ohio State in 1967. They are in this position in large part due to Henry.

“In the biggest game in Michigan baseball history in a long, long time, we got the best pitching performance of Tommy Henry’s career,” coach Erik Bakich said. “We needed a strong performance and he gave us something magical tonight.

“Tommy was just—I don’t even know if there’s an adjective to describe how good he was, but he was better than that.”

Henry had all of his weapons Monday. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, changeup and slider, throwing so many strikes that he quickly forced the Seminoles out of their typically disciplined, patient approach.

Henry struck out 10 batters but worked efficiently, walking none and throwing exactly 100 pitches on the night. He improved to 11-5, 3.27 with 127 strikeouts and 25 walks in 115.2 innings this season. He on Monday broke Michigan’s single-season strikeout record, surpassing Oliver Jaskie and Jim Burton (119).

Henry said Fetter drew up a good game plan for the Seminoles.

“We were doing anything we could to keep those guys off-balance,” he said. “That’s a deep, talented lineup. You’ve seen how hot they are, great coach.

“So, the plan was just to keep them as off-balance as we could, and it just happened to work out a little bit.”

The plan worked more than a little bit. After Mike Salvatore led the game off with a double, Henry retired 12 straight batters and didn’t allow another hit until the seventh inning. The Seminoles only twice had a runner in scoring position—both times after Salvatore doubles.

It was an outstanding performance against a team that had won seven straight games and averaged 8.29 runs per game during the streak. But by the fourth inning, when Florida State started through the lineup for a second time, it was apparent to Fetter that Henry had a chance for a special night.

“They’re not a team that really swings at the first pitch all that often,” Fetter said. “After we got through the lineup the first time they might have come off of their approach and they started to go after the first pitch. That’s when I knew he could go pretty deep in the game if they were going to be swinging at the first pitch.”

Henry said he was nervous before his start and was “pretty grumpy” on the bus ride to the ballpark. His nerves persisted in the first inning, which he attributed to the crowd of 23,541 people, the most he has ever played in front of. But eventually he settled down and got back to playing the game he has played since he was three years old.

It is a game Henry is quite good at. He was two weeks ago drafted 74th overall by the D-backs, just after Michigan had clinched a super regionals berth. At a listed 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, with his control and three-pitch mix as a lefthander, Henry figures to have a long future in baseball.

But, for now, he just wants to keep extending this Michigan team’s season. The Wolverines are on a magical postseason run that none of them are ready to see end.

“It’s just another win,” Henry deadpanned. “Seriously though, we just get to stay here another three or four days until Friday and we get to play another baseball game. That’s really what it’s all about. Getting the win for the 34 other guys in the dugout, the eight letters on our chest and the block M on our hat and we get to hang out with each other a few more days.”

If Michigan plays on Friday like it has so far in Omaha, it may be pushing its season into next week and the College World Series finals.

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