This year’s Michigan baseball team can be summed up in one word: resilient.
The Wolverines have endured a rollercoaster of a season. For most of the year, they fell short of expectations. Michigan showed flashes early in the year. With close losses to No. 14 Texas Tech and No. 4 Vanderbilt as well as a win over No. 21 Maryland, it seemed like the team had a shot to compete amongst the elite programs.
But then it got a reality check.
In their first Big Ten series, the Wolverines’ once-potent bats ground to a halt against Iowa, scoring just 2.3 runs per game in the series loss. From March 15 to May 10, they lost six straight midweek games due to a lack of pitching depth, an issue that plagued Michigan all year. The 7.00 ERA of 2022 was the program’s worst for a full season in over 20 years and ranked second to last in the Big Ten.
After dominating Michigan State and Ohio State on consecutive weekends in mid-April, the Wolverines’ morale was at its peak. Rivalry wins are nice, but at the end of the day, both of the series wins were against losing teams in the Buckeyes and the Spartans. Michigan still had to prove it could compete with the best.
And in the regular season, it couldn’t.
After two more series losses, rock bottom came in College Park where the Wolverines were throttled by Maryland, looking all but dead in the series sweep.
“It’s never too late to continue to improve,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said after the third loss to the Terrapins. “And we’re going to have the right mindset whatever happens we’re going to make sure we have the right mindset we’re gonna compete. … We’re not going to go down without a fight. We will do everything we have to do to extend our season.”
But after getting dominated, a switch flipped. The Wolverines reached a point where they had little left to lose. They got back up and kept fighting.
From May 19 on, Michigan was the underdog in all 12 games that it played. And in those games, the Wolverines emerged victorious in eight.
Going into the final weekend of the season, Michigan had one thing on its mind: making the Big Ten Tournament. This was far from a guarantee for the Wolverines, who were slated against a tough opponent for their final series of the regular season in Rutgers. After winning the first two games of the series, something seemed to change for Michigan.
“You got to understand what this team is like Rocky Balboa, who’s been beaten and bloodied and battered and knocked to the mat many times, 24 times, and we get back up every single time,” Bakich said after clinching the series win and a Big Ten Tournament berth. “I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of the group. … The guys respond every single time and it feels special.”
At the time it was easy to dismiss the Rocky comparison. Although Michigan earned a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, it fell short of the expectations all year. The Wolverines regressed from their projected second-place finish in the Big Ten, barely getting the fifth seed going into the conference tournament. And to extend its postseason and make the NCAA Tournament, Michigan had to make history.
With wins against Illinois, Maryland, Iowa and Rutgers, the Wolverines became the first team in Big Ten history to beat all top four seeds. Despite being the underdog in each of the games it played, Michigan won the conference championship.
And the Wolverines rode that into the Louisville Regional.
Even after the impressive hot streak, Michigan was still expected to be defeated in the NCAA Regional. As the three seed, the Wolverines again beat the odds by defeating the top two seeds in Oregon and Louisville to win their first two games. But as Michigan was riding high and on track to make the trip to Super Regionals, the Cardinals fought back.
The Wolverines lost 20-1 in the first chance to eliminate Louisville and went down 7-2 in the first inning of the win-or-go-home game one day later. But Michigan wouldn’t go down without a fight and proved why Bakich compared them to Philadelphia’s iconic boxer.
The Wolverines stood back up and stormed back, finding a 9-7 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning. But four runs by the Cardinals with two outs put a stop to the late-season campaign.
“(I’m) just very proud of our team,” Bakich said. “What you saw today was a microcosm of the whole season. The ability to take a punch and get knocked down and get up off the mat and keep fighting and not quit is the toughness and the resiliency of the group. You know, this team, Team 156, will always be remembered as one of the tougher teams that Michigan baseball has ever seen.”
The magic that the Wolverines captured in their final 12 games proved that the preseason lofty goals carried some weight. Although they were beaten up and knocked down going into the late-season push, they never quit. Michigan’s season was far from easy, but in the end — although they fell short — the Wolverines displayed what they’re made of: resilience, fight and an underdog mentality.