It was another entertaining week of Mid-American Conference baseball, with the headline coming from the state of Kentucky.
The Ball State Cardinals traveled to Lexington and took two of three games against the Kentucky Wildcats, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 record against Power 5 programs to begin the year and shooting them up the RPI rankings to #1 in the country.
It’s still very early in a unique college baseball season, but early trends are starting to show up and the biggest takeaway up to this point is that the MAC is truly anyone’s game this season. Ball State, Kent State, or Central Michigan may be considered the early favorites, depending on who you ask, but teams like Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan are showing flashes of being very exciting teams in 2021.
There’s one more weekend of non-conference play before MAC play begins, with more matchups against Power 5 conferences on the docket for this upcoming weekend. In the meantime, here’s a complete wrap-up of last weekend’s highlights around the conference.
Ball State (6-4) @ Kentucky
- Game one: Ball State 3, Kentucky 2
- Game two: Ball State 0, Kentucky 6
- Game three: Ball State 4, Kentucky 3
What Ball State has done to start the season is nothing short of fantastic. After splitting a series against Arizona and knocking the Wildcats out of the Top 25 and winning a series against Bradley, the Cardinals went into Lexington and took two of three from Kentucky, catapulting Ball State to number one in the RPI rankings with the nation’s toughest schedule.
Chayce McDermott fanned 10 Kentucky hitters on Friday night across five innings while Ball State’s bullpen continued its dominance with four innings of one-hit ball to close out the win. It was the veteran John Baker on Sunday afternoon who worked four innings of relief with four strikeouts, earning the save and proving why he’s not only one of the more versatile pitchers in the MAC, but also one of the most reliable.
Allowing just 11 runs across three games meant not a lot of offense was needed, which was lucky for Ball State’s lineup. The Cardinals leave Kentucky with a .196 team batting average, zero home runs, and a .296 on-base percentage through 10 games. Outfielder Ross Messina is the only Cardinal with a current average over .300 (.333) and is one of just three hitters with more than one extra-base hit.
Ball State travels to Old Dominion this weekend, a huge test for Cardinals pitchers. The Monarchs (8-3) are hitting .303 as a team with 57 extra-base hits (22 home runs) in 11 games and are coming off big wins against #17 East Carolina and CAA-favorite Northeastern.
Ohio (6-3) vs Wisconsin-Milwaukee
- Game one: Ohio 14, Wisc.-Milwaukee- 3
- Game two: Ohio 3, Wisc.-Milwaukee 1
- Game three: Ohio 6, Wisc.-Milwaukee 4
- Game four: Ohio 3, Wisc.-Milwaukee 2
Have a weekend, Spencer Harbert! The Ohio outfielder set the tone for what would become a dominant weekend for the Bobcats after hitting three home runs with 10 RBI on Friday night, his third homer being a grand slam as part of a five-run sixth inning. And it wouldn’t be a discussion of a Friday night Ohio game without noting the excellence that is LHP Joe Rock. Rock notched his third-straight quality outing, throwing six shutout innings with 12 strikeouts. He now has 12 strikeouts in two of his three outings, with the other being a no-hitter.
Senior outfielder and leadoff hitter Isaiah Peterson also continued his hot start out of the gates. He’s the only Bobcat hitter to appear in all nine games and owns a .424 batting average with a .525 on-base percentage. The lineup as a whole is hitting just .237 but has posted a .343 OBP. Fortunately, Ohio’s pitching staff owns a remarkable 3.00 team ERA through nine games.
Senior bullpen arm Edward Kutt IV notched his second save of the season over the weekend and has now given up just two earned runs across 11 innings, with 13 strikeouts and one walk to his name. You want to make some noise in college baseball, roll out a dominant bullpen.
Ohio will take on Morehead State on Tuesday before heading to Marshall this weekend for one last tuneup before MAC play.
Akron (2-0) vs Olivet
- Game one: Akron 13, Olivet 0
- Game two: Akron 9, Olivet 1 (7 innings)
The Zips couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off what is hopefully their first full season of play since 2015. Conor Steinbaugh, Jackson Hickert, and Mark Meyer combined to strike out 18 across nine innings, while allowing no walks and no runs on one hit. Akron pitchers added 13 more strikeouts in seven innings during game two as they again allowed just one hit.
Junior left fielder and leadoff hitter Roy Thurman recorded two hits and an RBI in each game, while first baseman Cameron Tilly notched three hits, including a home run and a double, with three RBI and a walk on Opening Day. The Zips will play Wittenberg on Wednesday, Salem on Thursday, and Mercyhurst on Sunday this coming week before opening MAC play on March 19 against Eastern Michigan.
Miami (6-5) @ Coastal Carolina Tournament
- Game one: Miami 0, UCONN 5
- Game two: Miami 3, Coastal Carolina 5
- Game three: Miami 11, Davidson 3
It’s been a bit of a rocky stretch for the RedHawks since sweeping Jacksonville in their series opener. Miami is 3-5 since then, dropping two of three games at Coastal Carolina last weekend. Being without one of the hottest arms in college baseball in Sam Bachman (shoulder soreness) didn’t help. The offense produced just three hits against Ben Casparius and UCONN (all three came from the top offensive duo in the country with the first name of Nate, Stone and Stolze). Stolze continued his hot-hitting with his second home run of the year on Saturday against Coastal, but a three-run sixth inning for the Chanticleers proved too much to overcome.
Miami will look to head into MAC play on a high note with a series at Memphis this weekend. The Tigers are coming off a throttling by the hands of Baylor and will take on Vanderbilt on Tuesday before heading back home to battle the RedHawks. If Sam Bachman is back, Miami should be able to rebound against a heavily-worked Memphis team.
Eastern Michigan (4-2) @ Bellarmine
- Game one: Eastern Michigan 7, Bellarmine 2
- Game two: Eastern Michigan 1, Bellarmine 2
- Game three: Eastern Michigan 12, Bellarmine 6
- Game four: Eastern Michigan 11, Bellarmine 12
The Eagles leave Kentucky with a split against brand new Division-I member Bellarmine, a program that proved they are going to be a tough matchup every weekend after battling Louisville to start the year. Eastern Michigan should be proud of their current 4-2 mark and especially happy to see the early-season performance from Friday night man Davis Feldman.
Feldman tossed six shutout innings on Friday, extending his shutout streak to 11 innings to start the year. Davis Feldman probably shouldn’t still be pitching in an Eagles uniform, but he is and at a high level. It’s a fantastic story and one that may end up with him pitching at the next level if he continues to pitch the way he has in 2021.
Freshman infielder Mark Kattula has been the story on offense, recording five hits and scoring a run in each game over the weekend. He’s now leading the team with a .409 average, 1.227 OPS, four doubles and four walks. He also notched his first career home run, a solo shot on Saturday in route to a 12-6 Eagles victory.
Eastern Michigan travels to #3 Mississippi State this weekend, who welcomes a MAC opponent to Dudy Noble Field for the second-straight weekend.
Central Michigan (3-4) @ Tour of Virginia
- Game one: Central Michigan 11, VCU 12
- Game two: Central Michigan 12, William and Mary 1
- Game three: Central Michigan 7, William and Mary 3
- Game four: Central Michigan 10, Richmond 2
The defending MAC champions are finally in the win column after a surprising sweep at the hands of Texas A&M- Corpus Christi and a canceled series against Bellarmine last weekend. The Chippewas filled their open weekend with a four-game tour of Virginia, dropping a high-scoring affair against VCU before traveling about 30 minutes down the road to sweep the Tribe of William and Mary on Sunday afternoon. They will travel back to Richmond to take on the Spiders Monday afternoon before taking another short trip to West Virginia this weekend.
The pitching staff struggled with command against VCU, but a long layoff at the start of the year after being away from the field for an entire year will do that. The bats, however, settled back into their routine early on. The Chippewas jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to a three-run HR by veteran backstop Griffin Lockwood-Powell. Both Lockwood-Powell and freshman outfielder Jakob Marsee drove in four runs on Friday.
Central’s pitchers got back on track Saturday, as freshman Andrew Taylor tossed seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts, backed by six CMU hitters putting together a multi-hit game. The Chippewas notched 12 more hits in game two of the doubleheader, and sophomore Ian Leatherman rebounded nicely from his bumpy debut, tossing two scoreless frames to close out the game.
Against Richmond, the Chippewas burst the game wide open in the fifth and sixth innings, scoring 7 of their 10 runs in those frames to put the Spiders away, thanks in part to two bases-loaded walks, and two two-run doubles which helped CMU start a conga line to home plate. The victory on Monday afternoon was their third-straight win, ending their tour of Virginia in grand fashion.
There’s no reason to panic yet if you’re Central Michigan, even despite the slow start. The pitching staff is deep and this offense is a veteran lineup without a weakness. Expect plenty of high quality baseball this weekend in Morgantown.
Toledo (1-8) @ Samford
- Game one: Toledo 4, Samford 9
- Game two: Toledo 14, Samford 3
- Game three: Toledo 8, Samford 16
It’s been one year to the day (March 8) since the Toledo Rockets have won a weekend series, a streak that will continue after another rough weekend this season. After just three hits through six games, sophomore Darryn Davis recorded five hits and four walks against Samford, while standout 1B/RHP Chris Meyers is now hitting .371 after a five-hit weekend with four RBI, three walks (all on Sunday), and his fourth home run of the year.
Despite 34 total hits offensively, the Rockets surrendered 28 runs in three games. It won’t get easier for Toledo’s pitching staff as they face off against Wofford this weekend. Wofford is a fast team that gets on base at a near .400 clip on the year, meaning we could see an enormous amount of runs for both teams this weekend. Regardless, Toledo needs some wins before heading into MAC player as much of the rest of the conference has at least shown flashes of what can make them a competitor. We haven’t seen that quite yet from Toledo.
Kent State (4-4) @ #3 Mississippi State
- Game one: Kent State 3, Mississippi State 8
- Game two: Kent State 9, Mississippi State 5
- Game three: Kent State 0, Mississippi State 13
It was almost a magical weekend for the Kent State Golden Flashes, but still ended up being a positive for the preseason MAC favorites. Kent State was supposed to play West Virginia, but ended up in Starkville after a last-second schedule change. The Golden Flashes appeared primed for a Friday night upset before a six-run Bulldog fifth inning proved too much to overcome.
But Saturday was a different story. Luke Albright worked 6.2 quality innings, striking out four and picking up his second win of the season. Albright’s outing showcased why he’s going to be a first-day MLB draft pick, challenging Mississippi State hitters with the same exact pitch in the same exact location on occasion, and producing either an out or a swing and miss on just about every occasion. Saturday’s outing should give Albright the confidence that he can beat any team in the country, but I’m sure he already knew that.
Kent State was held hitless on Sunday, but picking up a win against the #3 team in the country with your ace on the mound is a great weekend for this team. They will now take on Salem University on Friday and Grand Valley State on Saturday before beginning MAC play with Northern Illinois.
Bowling Green (2-4) @ James Madison University
- Game one. Bowling Green 10, JMU 6
- Game two: Bowling Green 4, JMU 15
- Game three: Bowling Green 10, JMU 4
Something might be cooking in Bowling Green.
The Falcons went into Harrisonburg, Virginia and took two of three against JMU, a veteran CAA team with a dominant offense. BGSU largely kept the Dukes in check, except for Saturday’s performance, exploding for 24 runs of their own. According to the Falcons’ program, their 10 runs on Friday was the first time the Falcons have scored 10 runs and won on a Friday night since 2015. It was also the first win of many for new head coach Kyle Hallock.
Friday night starter Andrew Abrahamowicz gave up four runs on seven hits in game one, but he did not surrender a walk and struck out five in his second start of the year. If he can hang with the likes of Sam Bachman, Luke Albright, Joe Rock, and the rest of a stellar Friday night crew in the MAC, Bowling Green is going to put the conference on notice.
Offensively, I called sophomore outfielder Jack Krause the key before the season started and he showed exactly why on Friday night. His three-run home run in the eighth inning on Friday broke a 5-5 tie, giving Bowling Green all of the momentum to cruise to a win. He would go on to chip in two more hits on the weekend, giving him at least one hit in five of six games so far. Leadoff man Tyler Ross, also a sophomore, strung together six hits last weekend and is now hitting .375 on the year.
Bowling Green now travels to Bowling Green, Kentucky this weekend for a series against Western Kentucky. Perhaps it’s still the high of being at a live college baseball game for the first time in more than 365 days, but after watching the Falcons play this weekend, I can confidently say that no one should be sleeping on this team, a team that wasn’t supposed to exist in 2021.
Northern Illinois (1-6) @ University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley
- Game one: Northern Illinois 1, UTRGV 11 (7 innings)
- Game two: Northern Illinois 2, UTRGV 15 (7 innings)
- Game three: Northern Illinois 3, UTRGV 4 (8 innings)
- Game four: Northern Illinois 4, UTRGV 5 (7 innings)
Simply put, this was not a good weekend for the Huskies. The pitching staff surrendered 35 total runs and walked just as many hitters (21) as they struck out (21). Things won’t get any easier for Northern Illinois this weekend as they take on Rice and Kansas State on the road in Texas before entering MAC play. It may be best to just move on from this series and take it as a learning experience. As mentioned before the season started, how high Northern Illinois climbs up the MAC depends on their pitching. One non-conference series doesn’t define a season, but the Huskies are going to need to quickly turn things around.
Elsewhere around the Mid-American Conference, Western Michigan had their series against St. Louis canceled and will try to salvage one last non-conference series against Cincinnati. Hopefully, outfielder Blake Dunn is back in the lineup after exiting the first game of the season two weeks ago against Kansas State and not returning on Saturday or Sunday. He was available as a defensive substitute and pinch-runner, so maybe an extra week off is all he needed.