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Baseball team makes Wolverines proud

Once you get to the college level, moral victories rarely exist in sports.

It’s all about the final outcome, whether you win or lose. That’s the only thing that is supposed to matter when the buzzer sounds.

However, when it comes to the Michigan baseball team, they do have something to take stock in.

At the start of this season, nobody thought much of the Wolverines. They were a decent program, but the odds that they would reach the NCAA Tournament were slim, let alone get all the way to the College World Series in Omaha.

That’s what they did, though. A solid regular season and a good performance in the Big Ten Tournament helped Michigan slip into one of the last four spots for the NCAAs. That in and of itself was enough of an accomplishment, but the Wolverines weren’t finished.

Starting off at 200-to-1 odds, they got sent to the Corvallis, Oregon, regional, where host and defending national champion Oregon State was lurking. That didn’t matter to Michigan as it surprised many by winning the regional and moving on to the Los Angeles super regional.

That’s where you might think the Wolverines’ run would have ended. After all, they were about to take on No. 1 national seed UCLA on its own field. But you’d be wrong, though, as Michigan outlasted the Bruins in three games to book its trip to Nebraska.

Before its series with the Bruins, Michigan had 50-to-1 odds to win it all and now the Wolverines were on college baseball’s biggest stage.

Even after all they’d accomplished, the Wolverines’ efforts were still shrugged off. They were seen as the biggest longshot in Omaha, 15-to-1 odds at one point, but got out of the first four-team bracket and made it to the championship series.

Michigan even won the first game over CWS favorite Vanderbilt, but couldn’t get that elusive second win and fell one game short of winning its first national title since 1962.

On paper, it may seem like the Wolverines didn’t finish the job, but in reality, they did. They did things very few people expected them to do. After all, Michigan is a Big Ten team. Snow can be on the ground in Ann Arbor well into April and northern teams tend to struggle when they face national powerhouses out of the Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and Big 12.

The last Big Ten team to make it to the CWS was Indiana in 2013, so it’s quite difficult for a conference squad to get to Omaha and it’s even harder for one to win a national title — the last winner was Ohio State more than half a century ago in 1966.

But the Wolverines managed to nearly pull it off.

The other thing they managed to do is shine a spotlight on the recruiting strategies of head coach Erik Bakich. He’s strived to recruit in areas of the country that may have been passed over by more prominent programs, like inner-city players, saying in an ESPN interview, “We just think our roster should look like the United States of America.”

The final thing that the Wolverines did was provide a great distraction from the mess that is Detroit-area sports right now.

Let’s be real here. The Tigers are a disaster — their win Saturday broke an eight-game losing streak that also has seen them swoon to 3-21 in their last 24 home games.

I’ve been wanting to catch a game at Comerica Park ever since I moved here, but it looks like I’d be getting an awful show at what seems like a beautiful ballpark. It’s not just the Tigers, though.

The Red Wings are just as bad, but are completely locked into rebuilding mode, confirmed by the regime change with Steve Yzerman taking over as general manager in the past few months.

The Lions and Pistons both have shown some glimpses of success recently, and both could be making a playoff appearance if all goes well during their next season. At the same time, though, neither team makes you eager to buy a ticket or tune in on TV.

The Wolverines did that for a few weeks this month. They gave their school and their state a much-needed boost. The football team had a good season, but all anyone will remember is its blowout losses to the hated Buckeyes and to Florida to close out the year. The men’s basketball team had a lot of promise, especially after making it to the national championship game in 2018, but ended up getting eliminated in the Sweet 16. At least it was to the eventual national runner-up in Texas Tech.

And then there’s the hockey team, which coming off a Frozen Four appearance in 2018, got promptly dismissed in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament this winter.

As disappointing as all that was, the baseball team made Wolverines’ fans forget about all that briefly, which I’m sure was enjoyable.

A Detroit News story said that after Michigan’s Game 2 loss to Vanderbilt, a game that would’ve given the Wolverines the national title, Bakich noticed his team was smiling. Even though Michigan came up short in the end on Wednesday, the team should still be smiling.

As devastating as that defeat may have been, the Wolverines did a lot. People will remember Michigan’s tournament run for a quite awhile and it’s something that it can build on for the next year and a number of years after.

Like I said, there aren’t any moral victories in sports. But that doesn’t mean the Wolverines should feel awful. They did an amazing job in the past month and that’s something to be proud of.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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