There are a few things that I, a fairly seasoned sports fan, consider to be incontrovertible truths. One of those things is that over a long enough timeline, teams will eventually revert back to the mean. So, it is not without a sense of acceptance and almost expectance that Western Michigan's baseball postseason comes to a close in the Louisville regional after a 6-1 loss to the host Cardinals on Friday and a 10-3 loss to Wright State today.
The Broncos came into the regional with a 22-32 record, one of only two teams to make it to this point in the entire tournament with a sub-.500 ledger. That made the road difficult. That they were facing the tournament's #2 overall seed in the 47-12 Louisville Cardinals in their opener made it as close to impossible as sporting events get. After the loss, they followed with 44-15 Wright State, who came two outs away from upsetting #20-ranked and second-seeded Ohio State in their own opener. Quite the uphill climb for a Cinderella in her newly minted slippers.
This early exit should do nothing to diminish the sense of pride and accomplishment that Broncos fans and supporters should feel about this season. Their dominance through the Mid-American Conference tourney, culminating in the tremendous upset of Kent State, was story enough in and of itself. The regional berth and the NCAA tournament experience for these players and fas was icing on an otherwise pretty amazing cupcake.
Perhaps that's what sets MAC fans apart and makes the supporters of the Little Conference that Could so incredible. The athletic factories, the name brand schools, the Powerhouse U that dominate the sports landscape take that success, that feeling, that sense of accomplishment for granted. For MAC fans, it isn't about the next brass ring, it's celebrating the ring we were fortunate enough to grab onto in the first place.
Over the course of this summer, you'll see similar stories of the why behind the what that is our staff's passion for Mid-American Conference athletics and the institutions which play them. Western Michigan's season, their ride, and their accomplishments are ones we all share in, celebrate, and point to as the reason why we don't give up, why we keep the faith alive, and why hope and optimism are the way of things in our day to day sports lives. Because even though it wasn't possible for Western Michigan in the Louisville regional, it sure was fun to watch.
Louisville 6 - Western Michigan 1
Western Michigan engaged with the No. 2 overall seed Louisville in a pitcher’s duel for most of Friday night, before eventually falling 6-1 at Jim Patterson Stadium in the NCAA Regional opener.
Jacob Piechota got his second start in six days, coming off a dominant performance against Central Michigan last Saturday, which propelled the Broncos to the MAC Championship game. Piechota shut down Louisville through the first two innings before running into trouble in the third. The Cardinals had three of the first four men reach base with the third hit score the first run. Louisville was then successful on a double steal and scored its second run on a groundout to second.
The Cardinals put up two more in the fourth on a two-out double from Drew Ellis to left which plated two men from second and third. It was one of only two extra base hits on the night for either team.
The final tallies for the Cards came on a two-run home run from Blake Tiberi to right field making it 6-1.
Western Michigan’s run in the sixth was thanks to its best hitter on the night, Drew Farmer, who went 2-for-3. He singled to left and was on second with two outs when MAC Freshman of the Year, Connor Smith singled to center and Farmer just beat the throw. Following a Grant Miller walk, putting runners on first and second, Hunter Prince came up to the plate as the tying run at the time, but grounded out to short to end the threat.
Wright State 10 - Western Michigan 3
Wright State was able to score early off Broncos ace Keegan Akin who was making his first start since coming off short rest in the MAC Championship game last week. The Raiders were able to elevate Akin’s pitch count in the first and score two on a ball that went up the middle thanks to heads up base running by Peyton Burdick.
Western Michigan answered right back as its first two men reached in the bottom of the first. Hunter Prince flew out to center with runners on second and third, but the center fielder dropped the ball on the transfer allowing both Nick Vogelmeier and Connor Smith to score, tying the game at 2-2.
The Raiders then chased Akin from the game by scoring three more off him, with the last two coming on a two-run double in the fourth. It was part of an offensive barrage by Wright State who scored at least one run in each inning from the third through the seventh.
Drew Farmer, who went 2-for-3 in Friday night’s game against Louisville, continued his hot hitting as he was able to bring home Nate Grys from second in the seventh inning. Earlier in the inning, Grys hit a double to the left-center gap.
“I was really proud of Keegan today. Wright State is a really good team, but Keegan hasn’t had three walks in a start all year and he had three today in five innings. I thought he was laboring a little bit more than usual but he fought and I like to see our guys fight. Hats off to Wright State they played really well and had a good victory," said Western Michigan head coach Billy Gernon