Once again, the Mid-American Conference did not disappoint in the final weekend of non-conference play. The Central Michigan Chippewas went into Morgantown, West Virginia and took down a Top 25 opponent, Eastern Michigan right-handed pitcher Justin Meis nearly made history against the third-ranked team in the nation, and Kent State is entering conference play on a roll.
The top of this conference is very strong and while we started to see some separation between this group and the rest of the conference, MAC play is going to be a street fight.
Beginning this weekend, teams will play four-game conference series every single weekend, with every Saturday featuring a doubleheader (both games set for seven innings). If you are a pitcher in the Mid-American Conference, I hope your arm is loose is ready to go.
Before diving into some of the bright spots and dark horses heading into conference play, here are the highlights from week four around the conference.
Central Michigan (5-5) @ # 23 West Virginia
- Game one: CMU 5, WVU 3,
- Game two: CMU 12, WVU 4
- Game three: CMU 7, WVU 8 (10 innings)
Remember when I told you last week to not worry about the Chippewas? I hope you listened. After dropping their first four games of the season, Central Michigan exploded for 40 runs over four games last week and concluded their two-week tour of Virginia/West Virginia with a series win over the Mountaineers of the Big XII conference.
Jordan Patty showed exactly why he shouldn’t be overlooked in a conference dominated by elite pitching, striking out eight hitters across seven innings and picking up his first win of the season. Sophomore bullpen stud Ian Leatherman closed the book on Friday’s contest with two innings of work and three strikeouts. The only blemish was a solo home run allowed in the ninth inning. The Chippewas recorded just five hits, but Kade Preston’s two-run triple and Zach Heeke’s two hits were enough.
Saturday’s doubleheader was equally as impressive. After loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, Andrew Taylor struck out the side and never looked back. Taylor would go on to strike out 11 hitters in 6.1 innings as the Chippewas offense scored 12 runs on 16 hits. Only two of those hits went for extra-bases. Small ball still wins baseball games.
CMU dropped game three of the series in extra-innings, but the bats remained hot as the Chippewas scored seven runs on 14 hits (five XBH). Senior Zach Gilles had three hits in both Saturday games. Senior catcher Griffin Lockwood-Powell did not play over the weekend after leaving last Monday’s game early. This was a huge series win for a MAC favorite without their team leader. The Chippewas will play four games at Dayton this weekend while the rest of the conference begins MAC play.
Eastern Michigan (4-5) @ #3 Mississippi State
- Game one: EMU 0, Mississippi State 14
- Game two: EMU 1, Mississippi State 4
- Game three: EMU 1, Mississippi State 4
The Eagles may have dropped all three games in Starkville, but it was a weekend to remember for this program. Eastern Michigan surrendered 14 runs on 14 hits on Friday night, striking out 18 times offensively, but Saturday was a career-day for starting pitcher Justin Meis.
Meis took a shutout into the 9th inning against a lineup stacked with future MLB draft picks in a hostile environment, but the junior RHP would give up a single, hit-by-pitch, and an RBI-single to lead off the final frame before being removed. Designated hitter Logan Tanner’s three-run HR in the very next at-bat would end the contest. Meis finished with a final line of 8 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K with 14 groundball outs.
Both runs scored over the weekend came via the home run ball. Freshman Mark Kattula continued his hot season with a solo home run on Sunday, while Saturday’s came via junior Taylor Hopkins. It was his first of the season and fifth of his career.
This is the kind of series that I hope these young men look back at as a strong weekend. The Eagles open MAC play this weekend against Akron, a team who is 5-1 right now, but has yet to play a Division I opponent. Eastern Michigan has a chance to start conference play on a very high note.
Ball State (6-7) @ Old Dominion
- Game one: Ball State 3, Old Dominion 6
- Game two: Ball State 5, Old Dominion 10
- Game three: Ball State 1, Old Dominion 2 (10 innings)
Last week’s recap warned of a tough matchup for the Cardinals this past weekend, despite the Cardinals entering the weekend ranked first in the nation in RPI. As the Monarchs have done to all of their opponents this season, extra-base hits lit up the scoreboard and proved to be the difference maker. Coming off a 10-strikeout performance against Kentucky, Chayce McDermott allowed four runs on eight eights with just two punchouts on Friday afternoon. The Cardinal did record nine hits, but just weren’t able to push runs across. Freshman Adam Tellier had four hits and Noah Navarro drove in two of Ball State’s three runs.
Ball State didn’t go down quietly on Saturday, putting up three runs in the 9th inning after being down by eight, but it was the first rough bump for veteran pitcher John Baker who gave up seven runs on nine hits and failed to make it out of the fifth inning. Only one of those runs was earned due to a pair of errors. Navarro remained hot at the plate, collecting three hits and two RBI.
Sunday’s contest was winnable, but the Cardinals fell just short thanks to a 10th inning Monarch rally. Lukas Jaksich and Tyler Ruetschle combined to strike out 13 and walk just two across 9.1 innings of work, but the offense was unable to drum up any support. Leadoff hitter Adam Tellier had four of the Cardinals’ nine hits. The freshman is now hitting .478 after his huge weekend.
Ball State opens MAC play at home against Western Michigan this weekend.
Miami (7-7) @ Memphis
- Game one: Miami 9, Memphis 0
- Game two: Miami 2, Memphis 5
- Game three: Miami 2, Memphis 4
It was another weekend without ace Sam Bachman on the hill (shoulder), but the Miami RedHawks appeared poised to rebound from their tough weekend in Conway, South Carolina last week after taking game one of the series 9-0. Grant Hartwig and Kevin Napoleon combined for nine shutout innings with six strikeouts. Fifth-year man Will Vogelgesang notched his second home run of the season and Dalton Back was 2-4 (two doubles) with three RBI.
The bats were much quieter on Saturday and Sunday but Brian Zapp and Back both hit home runs and Will Vogelgseang recorded two hits in both games. He has two hits in each of his last four games now. It was a tough series loss for the RedHawks who saw their pitching staff pile up a combined 27 strikeouts over three games, but key hits at the right time for Memphis secured the series.
There’s no word on when Sam Bachman will return, but Miami will open MAC play at home against Toledo this weekend before welcoming Northern Illinois next weekend, so the schedule is favorable for the RedHawks, but they will need Bachman back on the mound and fully healthy if they want to survive what is expected to be a wild ride in the Mid-American Conference this season.
Kent State (6-5) vs Seton Hall
- Game one: Kent State 10, Seton Hall 7
- Game two: Kent State 12, Seton Hall 4
- Game three: Kent State 4, Seton Hall 7
The Golden Flashes are sitting right where they want to be entering conference play. They challenged themselves in non-conference play, came out above .500, their ace is rolling, and the lineup is pouring in runs. They also get a struggling Northern Illinois team this weekend to open conference play.
Seton Hall jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning on Friday night, but every single Kent State hitter recorded at least one hit and home runs from Ben Carew, Collin Matthews, and Mack Timbrook helped mount a comeback and series-opening win. Collin Romel picked up his first win of the season thanks to 3.2 innings of solid relief work. Getting productive innings from Romel this season could be a big difference maker for this team.
Saturday was Luke Albright day and he did typical Luke Albright things. Improving to 3-1 on the year, Albright gave up one run across six innings while striking out six and was backed by another three home runs from his offense. The power-hitting Golden Flashes saw dingers from Michael Turner, Justin Miknis, and Michael McNamara, while leadoff man Cam Touchette was a perfect 4-4.
Turner added another home run in Sunday’s loss. The senior catcher and future MLB Draft League participant is now hitting .323 with three home runs this season.
Bowling Green (2-8) @ Western Kentucky
- Game one: BGSU 3, WKU 4 (10 innings)
- Game two: BGSU 1, WKU 4 (7 innings)
- Game three: BGSU 1, WKU 3 (7 innings)
- Game four: BGSU 16, WKU 17
Ok, so I can’t hit every prediction and not every take is spot on. After getting to sit in at actual baseball field and watch a live game for the first time in over a year, I was high on Bowling Green to make some noise this year. Unfortunately, the Falcons responded with four-straight losses to their Bowling Green brothers.
Andrew Abrahamowicz was once again solid on Friday night, striking out eight across six innings as the Falcons took a lead into the bottom of the 10th inning thanks to an RBI-double from Jared Johnson, but two WKU runs in the bottom half of the frame quickly changed the mood of this series.
Saturday’s doubleheader was a quiet pair of games for BGSU, scoring just two runs on 10 hits in 14 innings of play. If there was one bright spot, it was outfielder Jak Krause. I’m going to make sure you remember his name by mentioning him every single week. Krause recorded five total hits over the weekend and now has at least one hit in 10 of 11 games.
Sunday’s contest was a classic Sunday getaway day in mid-major college baseball. BGSU and WKU combined for 33 runs on 39 hits. Despite scoring seven runs over the final two innings, the Falcons' comeback attempt fell just short in this offensive shootout. The Falcons drew 12 walks as a team as Kyle Gurney went 5-6 with four RBI and three runs scored, Adam Furnace and Nathan Rose each collected three hits, and all nine hitters recorded at least one hit. The Falcons will look to rebound against Ohio this weekend.
Northern Illinois (1-10) @ Rice Tournament
- Game one: NIU 3, Kansas State 4
- Game two: NIU 3, Rice 6
- Game three: NIU 1, Kansas State 3 (10 innings)
- Game four: NIU 1, Rice 4
The Huskies enter MAC play riding an eight-game losing streak and in search of some offense. Eight runs across four games won’t win you very many games, even if your pitching staff has a respectable weekend.
Northern Illinois avoided future first-round MLB pick Jordan Wicks on Friday and nearly secured the upset over their Big XII opponent thanks to a masterful performance from Michael Lasjewicz. Lasjewicz gave up one run and struck out four in 7.1 innings of work, but the Huskies’ bullpen faltered in the bottom of the ninth and Kansas State was able to score in the frame and walk it off.
Saturday’s rematch was much of the same. Starting pitcher Brandon McPherson struck out nine across eight innings, allowing just one run, but the offense didn’t show up in support and a 10th inning Kansas State home run proved to be the nail in the coffin. The Huskies are hitting just .219 as a team with an on-base percentage of .278. Only Kam Smith (.368) and Paddy McKermitt (.300) are hitting .300 or better. NIU needs to rebound quickly, but taking on Kent State to open MAC play is a major first hurdle.
Toledo (2-11) @ Wofford
- Game one: Toledo 3, Wofford 13
- Game two: Toledo 1, Wofford 2 (7 innings)
- Game three: Toledo 6, Wofford 11 (7 innings)
- Game four: Toledo 9, Wofford 6
The good news is that Toledo ended their weekend with a win, the bad news is that it was just their second of the season. The pitching woes that have haunted this team popped up instantly on Friday night as Wofford scored 13 runs on just nine hits. Toledo pitchers walked 10 and hit another two Terrier hitters. John Servello and Chris Meyers combined for five hits at the top of the lineup, but the rest of Toledo’s lineup managed just two hits as Friday night’s outing got out of hand quickly and stayed out of reach for the Rockets.
Servello’s RBI-double was the only offense Toledo was able to produce in game one on Saturday, spoiling a good outing by Kyle Jones who gave up two runs on six hits across all six innings. That sort of outing cannot be wasted if you’re Toledo. Servello continued his torrid weekend with a home run in game two on Saturday as part of a six-run day for the offense. Unfortunately, the Rockets had just six hits and the pitching staff 11 runs on 12 hits and 12 walks.
Sunday’s win was a positive. All nine hitters had at least one hit and the Rockets used a five-run seventh inning to propel them to victory. Servello quietly went 1-5, but extended his hitting streak to eight games as he raised his batting average from .222 to .259 over the weekend. Toledo opens MAC play against a likely Sam Bachman-less Miami team and a chance to shake off their rough non-conference play.
Western Michigan (0-6) @ Cincinnati
- Game one: WMU 1, Cincinnati 5
- Game two: WMU 5, Cincinnati 7
- Game three: WMU 4, Cincinnati 5
The Western Michigan Broncos just can’t seem to catch a break early on in 2021. The Broncos were voted to finish in the middle of the pack in the MAC this year in preseason polls, but with Blake Dunn in the lineup and a veteran roster in place, WMU was in a position to be a force this season and maybe surprise a few teams. Unfortunately, Blake Dunn was injured on Opening Day and has yet to return to the lineup, the Broncos weren’t able to build on their impressive weekend against Kansas State due to a COVID cancellation the following weekend, and now Western Michigan enters MAC play with an 0-6 record and Ball State on the schedule.
Easton Sikorski pitched well on Friday night, striking out four in 5.2 innings of work and Sean O’Keefe recorded three hits as part of a five-hit weekend. Fun fact, O’Keefe has three hits in the first game of each series.
The bats were quiet on Saturday and Sunday, but the Broncos did draw eight walks on Saturday. Unfortunately, they struck out 14 times on Sunday and despite a number of extra-base hits, the Broncos left runners stranded frequently and were unable to hold their two-run lead over the final four frames. Western Michigan could have really used another non-conference series to tune up for conference play, but if Blake Dunn can return to the lineup and inject some much-needed energy, the Broncos will turn things around.
Akron @ Home Showcase
- Game one: Akron 16, Salem 1
- Game two: Akron 5, Grand Valley State 3
- Game three: Akron 12, Mercyhurst 1
After dropping a midweek game to Wittenberg, the Zips improved to 5-1 with three wins over the weekend. The non-conference schedule played out exactly as Akron needed as the Zips enter MAC play with a number of big wins behind them and a lineup and pitching staff that has to feel confident right now, despite the level of competition. Among all Division I teams who are participating in the 2021 season, Akron has the easiest strength of schedule in the country up to this point, which will quickly change now that conference play is here.
Highlights from the weekend included a second-straight quality start for Conor Steinbaugh who gave up two runs with four strikeouts across six innings on Friday, John Creel throwing six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts on Sunday, and first baseman Cameron Tilly picking up five hits over the weekend, including three doubles and his second home run of the year. He’s now hitting .421 with more walks (6) than strikeouts (3).
Akron will stay home for four games against Eastern Michigan this weekend.
The Ohio Bobcats (6-4) were scheduled to play against Marshall but that series was canceled due to COVID concerns. It meant another week of not having the opportunity to watch one of the hottest pitchers in the country in LHP Joe Rock. None of Rock’s performances have been televised yet. Hopefully, that changes now that MAC play is underway. The Bobcats will take on Bowling Green at home this weekend.