Even Sean Salisbury would have a tough time breaking this season down — but let’s try.

Michigan Baseball
The Michigan baseball team celebrates one of its 42 victories during its tumultuous season, which culminated with a loss in the NCAA Atlanta Regional. (Ali Olsen/Daily)

Michigan opened its season with a pair of victories over Georgia and North Carolina, two teams boasting top-10 rankings. Heading into their conference schedule, the Wolverines were 14-3 and ranked No. 19 in the nation.

Just in case you’re not a Michigan baseball buff, we’re talking about the same team with one NCAA tournament berth in the previous 15 years — not to mention three coaches in the last five.

But this was the year. With Jim Brauer, Michael Penn and Derek Feldkamp, the pitching was stacked. Kyle Bohm, Matt Butler and Chris Getz comprised a potent lineup. And third-year head coach Rich Maloney was increasing his win totals each season. Collegiate Baseball took notice and ranked Michigan 35th in its Fabulous 40 preseason poll — the Wolverines’ first preseason recognition since 1998, which was quickly justified. After a successful trip through the South, Michigan came back up north, completing two consecutive weekend sweeps, including the home-opening series against Oakland.

The Wolverines felt that their early success should translate into a conference title, and for good reason. If they can beat teams like Georgia, North Carolina and Florida Atlantic, they should glide through the mediocre Big Ten, the thinking went.

But the transitive property did not hold up. In one week, Michigan went from broom to dust, getting swept by Minnesota in its first conference series. And if you thought it was a fluke — three of the four losses were by a combined five runs — you probably thought twice after the next series against Iowa.

In the first game, the Wolverines built an 11-3 lead following a five-run seventh inning. But in Iowa’s next at-bat, Michigan took out the batting cage and L-screens. The Hawkeyes tallied 10 runs on 10 bona fide hits, all in the top of the eighth — there were no errors. It was like watching Tom Emanski’s Teaching the Mechanics of the Major League Swing II for 45 minutes — picture-perfect line-drive shots, one after the other. Michigan lost that game 13-12, and it could salvage just one win the entire weekend.

It didn’t matter that half of the games were decided by one run — the Wolverines’ 1-7 in the Big Ten was horrendous, especially given their hot start. Michigan had to save face and eke out a respectable conference record to make the NCAA tournament.

After splitting their next series with Illinois, the Wolverines got hot again. They trounced Ohio State on national television and went on to sweep Michigan State.

After taking two from Purdue, Michigan was 10-11 in conference play, right on the cusp. If the Wolverines couldn’t squeeze their way into the six-team Big Ten tournament, it would be tight sneakers on an NCAA berth. Quality non-conference wins would mean nothing if they didn’t take care of Indiana and Penn State.

But they did, in convincing fashion, sweeping Indiana and taking three of four from the Nittany Lions. A 1-7 start was countered with a 7-1 finish — the boys of summer would play on.

But the respite was brief. The Wolverines went 1-2 in the double-elimination Big Ten tournament, which put a huge stain on their NCAA resume — most publications labeled Michigan a bubble team prior to the conference playoff. Luckily, however, the Wolverines’ hot start made a loud enough statement, and they gained an at-large bid — their first since 1998.

But just like the Big Ten tournament, Michigan made an early exit, losing twice to South Carolina. The breakout/disappointing/schizophrenic season had finally come to an end.

But for those who see the glass as half-empty, let’s put things into perspective.

From Day 1 of this season, Maloney’s main goal was winning 40 games, and Michigan did — for the first time since 1989. Fans and players alike might have been spoiled early on, but the 2005 season was a giant step forward for this program. Just three years ago, the Wolverines finished 21-32, eighth in the conference.

Get hyped my friends. Maloney is building or, for some of you rebuilding Michigan baseball. When five of your players get drafted in the first 10 rounds, you’re doing something right. When a top-50 prep star commits to your cold weather, Midwestern school, you’re doing something right.

But before you buy a timeshare in Omaha, bear in mind that establishing a Division I program is a marathon, not a sprint.

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