This past weekend may have marked the first time college baseball teams had taken the field in nearly a full calendar year, but the top talents across the country didn’t need much time to settle back in and find their groove. That includes the cream of the crop in the Mid-American Conference.
Northern Illinois had their Opening Weekend series wiped away due to weather, and Central Michigan, Kent State, and Miami all had their weekend schedules adjusted because of snow and ice, but there were no COVID-related interruptions for any MAC programs, which was a great way to kick off the 2021 season.
But the real highlight of Opening Weekend came out of Arizona last weekend, where the Ball State Cardinals made a statement against the nationally-ranked Arizona Wildcats and put the rest of the MAC on notice.
Ball State at #22 Arizona Wildcats
- Game 1: Ball State 0, Arizona 3
- Game 2: Ball State 8, Arizona 7 (11 innings)
- Game 3: Ball State 5, Arizona 2
- Game 4: Ball State 5, Arizona 11
Despite being shutout on Opening Night, Ball State gave every indication that this was going to be a fantastic series. Four shutout innings from the bullpen and 2019 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Chase Sebby kept the Cardinals close, but the offense struggled to push runs across the plate after threatening on a few occasions. Walks continued to plague starter Ty Weatherly, but he proved that he can match up against a talented lineup and hold his own. He’s going to be a key to far the Cardinals go this year.
The game of this series came Saturday night as starter Chayce McDermott failed to get out of the fourth inning and struck out just two Wildcats, but grizzled MAC veteran Jon Baker’s rare relief appearance cleaned up. Baker struck out seven across four shutout innings as Ball State secured their first win of the year on a bases-loaded walk in the 11th.
Middle infielder Noah Navarro paced Ball State with six hits over the weekend and Trenton Quartermine did what he does best, recording five hits, including two multi-hit games.
Splitting a four-game set against a Top 25 opponent on the road is an ideal start for an overlooked Cardinals team. We also have to send a big congratulations to head coach Rich Maloney who secured win number 500 as a Cardinal. Ball State is back in action this weekend with a doubleheader on Saturday at Charleston Southern, followed by a Sunday afternoon getaway game.
Miami at Jacksonville
- Game 1: Miami 4, Jacksonville 1
- Game 2: Miami 8, Jacksonville 4
- Game 3: Miami 5, Jacksonville 2
It was a clean sweep for Miami to kick off 2021, and a statement outing for Friday night starter and possible first-round draft pick Sam Bachman. Reports out of Jacksonville had Bachman touching 97 mph as he gave up one earned run on three hits across five innings. He walked just one and struck out six. It’s February and he’s already hitting 97 mph on the radar gun? Oh boy. Bachman started garnering more national attention over the summer and that will only continue to increase as more eyes are on him (as I scream “broadcast more college baseball games” loudly into the void).
Miami’s bullpen was the star of the weekend as the RedHawks’ relief arms combined to throw 14.1 innings while allowing two earned runs with 17 strikeouts. Offensively, infielder Will Vogelgesang led Miami with five hits, two doubles, and four RBI. Third baseman Brian Zapp also had a quality weekend, recording two triples (four total hits) and reaching base in eight of his 16 plate appearances.
Miami will take on the Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday before playing a four-game set at Florida International next weekend.
Ohio at Radford
- Game 1: Ohio 3, Radford 7
- Game 2: Ohio 2, Radford 4
- Game 3: Ohio 7, Radford 5
The Bobcats dropped two of three last weekend, but they competed very well against a high-quality opponent in Radford. A five-run seventh inning on Sunday and five dominant relief innings from Edward Kutt IV helped secure interim coach Craig Moore’s first victory and something positive for Ohio to hang their hats on going into next weekend.
Just in case you needed another reminder that wins aren’t always a useful stat for pitchers, just ask Friday night starter Joe Rock. One of the top-rated college arms in the country and potential early-round MLB draft pick, Rock fanned 12 hitters across five innings in his debut, giving up two earned runs on four hits. A lefty with a near MLB-ready slider, Rock needs to show MLB scouts he can handle a full season workload, limit the walks, and produce swings and misses. Friday night was a perfect start in the process of checking off those boxes.
Outfielder Isaiah Peterson was a table-setter this weekend, reaching base in all three games, including two hits on Friday and Sunday. If he can continue to pace the lineup at the top and the rest of the lineup can continue getting on base (.350 clip) while cutting down on the strikeouts (32), Ohio will find themselves in a good position entering MAC play.
The Bobcats travel to Morehead State this weekend for a doubleheader on Friday and then again on Sunday.
Central Michigan at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
- Game 1: Central Michigan 3, TAMCC 4
- Game 2: Central Michigan 1, TAMCC 5
- Game 3: Central Michigan 3, TAMCC 6
The defending MAC champions were supposed to take on Stephen F. Austin, but weather forced the Chippewas to find another opponent. Luckily, they were still able to get a series in while in Texas. Unfortunately, CMU begins their season 0-3 and in search of offense after struggling to score runs over the weekend.
The standout from this series was freshman RHP Andrew Taylor. Taylor pitched five innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts in game two of a doubleheader on Sunday. If the Chippewas can rely on the arm of Taylor to slot in behind Friday night starter Jordan Patty, CMU fans should feel confident about the likelihood of Central Michigan repeating as MAC champs.
Despite hitting .143 as a team, CMU drew 24 walks, good for a .360 on-base percentage. Senior outfielder Zach Gilles recorded six of those free passes. This is a veteran lineup that will just require a bit of patience.
Central Michigan stays on the road to take on Bellarmine, a former Division-II school out of Louisville, Kentucky who is playing their first season as a Division-I program in the Atlantic Sun. They are already battle-tested, having dropped three games to powerhouse Louisville last weekend.
Kent State at Virginia Tech
- Game 1: Kent State 1, Virginia Tech 3
- Game 2: Kent State 2, Virginia Tech 9
Kent State had their original three-game weekend series shortened to a Sunday doubleheader in Blacksburg, Virginia, to kick off the season and played well against their ACC opponent, but proved unable to overcome quality Hokie pitching.
Luke Albright, another MAC pitching prospect expected to be drafted very early, made pitching look easy in game one of the doubleheader, striking out seven across 5.1 innings. He allowed two runs, but only one hit. It was early-inning walks that proved deadly for Albright, something that can be chalked up to early-season defrosting.
Walks plagued the entire Kent State pitching staff last weekend, but the Golden Flashes did ultimately out-hit the Hokies (13 to 11), they just weren’t able to push those baserunners across the plate. Ben Carew and Justin Miknis paced the way with seven of those 13 hits.
Kent State will look to get the bats going and settle in on the mound with a three-game set at Tennessee Tech next weekend, a task that will be much easier said than done.
Toledo at USC-Upstate
- Game 1: Toledo 2, USC 14
- Game 2: Toledo 1, USC 5
- Game 3: Toledo 6, USA 7
This wasn’t the way the Toledo Rockets needed to open up the season, but there were a few positive takeaways to highlight. The biggest of which is 1B/RHP Chris Meyers. Meyers drilled his first home run of the season and drove in three of Toledo’s nine runs on the weekend. He also pitched well on Saturday, giving up four runs on five hits across three innings with five strikeouts. The final line wasn’t ideal, but Meyers settled in nicely as the game went along and produced a high number of swings and misses. The ball really explodes out of his hand from an over-the-top delivery, leaving hitters unsettled at times.
As a team, Toledo struck out 44 times in three games and hit just .212. Of their 21 total hits, 12 of them came on Sunday, so perhaps they can keep the bats hot as they continue their tour of the Carolinas next weekend with a three-game set at Davidson.
Elsewhere around the MAC, Eastern Michigan will kick off their season against Alabama State, while Western Michigan draws a powerful opponent in Kansas State, Bowling Green takes on Middle Tennessee State, and Northern Illinois attempts to begin their season against Evansville.
Akron will not take the field for at least another week.