With only eight teams making the MAC Championships in Avon, Ohio in two weeks, every win has become more and more crucial for the teams sitting right around that 7-8 seed line. Two of those teams are the Toledo Rockets and the Western Michigan Broncos (who would make it without ever playing a true home game on the season). This past weekend, they squared off against one another hoping to gain ground on the 8-seed in the MAC standings.
Saturday (Game I) - Toledo 1, Western Michigan 0
After rain moved Friday's game into a doubleheader on Saturday, a pitchers' duel ensued between Bronco starter Steve Laudicina and Rocket starter Ryan Wilkinson. Both went the distance in a pure display of mastery, with neither hitting 100 pitches on the day (Laudicina finished with a mere 90). With both cruising with ease, it seemed like the game would be due for extra innings, but an error would fix all of that.
After a one-out single in the six by Tyler Grogg, a costly throwing error by Kurt Hoekstra allowed Dan Zuchowski on base, and more importantly, moved Grogg to second. After Zuchowski was picked off to make it two outs, a Ryan Callahan single drove in Grogg to make it 1-0. That score would hold up as both pitchers finished with superb lines, as shown below:
Wilkinson (UT) - 9 IP, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 BB, 8 Ks (98 pitches)
Laudicina (WMU) - 9 IP, 5 hits, 1 run (unearned), 2 BB, 2 K (90 pitches)
Laudicina actually faced fewer batters than Wilkinson (31 vs 32), and had fewer at-bats (27 vs 29), but still picked up his 5th loss of the season. Related note, the Chicago Cubs just mentioned possibly drafting the Bronco pitcher for his efforts this game while still picking up a loss (see Jeff Samardjiza). Wilkinson moved to 6-4 and threw the first complete-game shutout for Toledo since May 6th of last season against EMU
Saturday (Game II) - Western Michigan 3, Toledo 0
You know how doubleheaders usually show how strong or weak your bullpens are? Yeah, not this weekend. Bronco starter Chad Mayle went the distance with his own solid performance following Laudicina's tough loss in the first game. Rocket starter Sam Shutes didn't do bad himself, but a RBI double by Brandon Cable in the 4th was enough to give him a loss, despite Bret Sunde's two-run single in the next inning for insurance.
Cable was replaced by Andrew Marra after 7 innings, with Marra being the only man to come out of either bullpen on the day. He threw 2 perfect innings, tossing a strikeout in there for good measure. Still, that doesn't beat Mayle's line:
Mayle: 9 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 4 BB, 3 K, 27 ab, 32 bf (112 pitches)
Complete-game two-hitter? Yep, SHUT IT DOWN STARTERS.
Shutes' line of 9 hits, 3 runs and 2 walks isn't pretty, but it's not terrible over 7 innings. Still, that's worse than the other 3 starters COMBINED (or close).
Sunday - Western Michigan 6, Toledo 2
MOAR BULLPEN ACTION. Well, kinda.
Western Michigan AGAIN got solid starting, this time from Keegan Akin in the 6-2 rubber match victory. Akin nearly went the distance, but after Akin struggled to start the 9th inning, Gabe Berman came in with one out in a bases loaded situation to earn his 8th save of the season.
The MVP of the game though had to be Bronco catcher Brett Sunde. After an RBI double in the first (which was met by Toledo answering with an RBI ground-out in the bottom half of the inning), the sophomore gave the Broncos the lead with an RBI single in the 3rd.
He was not done though. After Andrew Sohn hit the eventual game-winning RBI single in the 5th with two outs, a steal and wild pitch moved him all the way to third. Sunde stepped to the plate and hit another RBI. Well, actually two, as he drove a Steven Calhoun pitch over the left center wall for his 2nd career home run, giving the Broncos a 5-1 lead.
The final lines for both Sunde and Akin?
Sunde: 3-for-5, 1 run, 4 RBI, triple shy of the cycle
Akin: 8.1 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 3 BB, 3 K (116 pitches)
Remember that 2 of those walks and a hit came in the 9th for Akin, so before that he had 8 innings with only 6 base runners. He also was the only Bronco to not go the distance AND the only one to give up an earned run. SHAME ON YOU FOR BEING SO BAD. /ducks
With the win, Akin moved to 5-3 while Schillace's loss keeps him at 0-4.
Overall, both teams now sit at 10-14 in the MAC, with WMU sitting at 21-27 overall and Toledo sitting at 20-30 overall. Both sit just a game below both Akron and Northern Illinois in the MAC standings, who are 11-13. Those four teams have the following opponents this coming weekend in what is assured to be barnburners:
Akron @ Kent State
Ball State @ Northern Illinois
Eastern Michigan @ Toledo
Western Michigan @ Central Michigan
So yeah, rivalry weekend! The only two "non-rivalries" are BGSU at Buffalo and possibly EMU at Toledo, but the latter is the battle of US 23, so BATTLE TO THE DEATH! I should also mention that only Toledo faces a team lower than them in the standings this coming weekend.