The tournament field was set early, but seeding drama played out over the weekend. The conference tournament is up next for Ball State, Central Michigan, Toledo and Ohio in Muncie. It’s a double-elimination tournament with CMU and Toledo starting on Wednesday.
The tournament is this week, but here is the past week to see how we got there.
Final Standings: The Ball State Cardinals are the regular-season champs
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||Conf W%||GB||Change|
Toledo won the first game of their series with Central Michigan and that was all Ball State needed to secure home field for the MAC Tournament. Ball State swept Miami to finish their season at 32-7 in the MAC.
Central Michigan beat Toledo in the last two games and didn’t play the series finale due to weather. Another CMU win would’ve put the Rockets in a tie with Ohio for the fourth spot. Instead, both teams are headed to Muncie to play each other in the opening game of the conference tournament.
In the bottom half of the field, the drama evaporated Thursday. Ohio’s opening win knocked Kent State and Miami’s loss paired with Ohio’s win eliminated the RedHawks. Ohio would’ve passed Toledo if they could’ve swept WMU but the Broncos have not been swept in the MAC this season. The streak survives the 2022 season.
The Bobcats would’ve benefited from playing fewer games throughout the season with only 36. The one game carried enough weight to get them in front of Toledo by win percentage.
Kent State made up an ultimately meaningless spot when they won three games against Eastern Michigan. The Eagles had a tough finish to the season after a 9-7 start. In the second half of the season, they managed one split and one series win during a 7-17 stretch.
The stats in the table below are from MAC games only. Now that the season is complete and the schedule is balanced, this data is the best set to compare these teams.
|Team||Bat Avg||OBP||SLG||Starter ERA||Bullpen ERA||Strikeout per 9|
#1 Ball State Cardinals
The Cardinals are the most well-rounded team in the tournament field. The batting average leads the MAC, as does the slugging percentage. The ERA from their starting pitchers is closer to CMU than Toledo, and they have the best bullpen ERA in the tournament. Their pitchers are also the best of the remaining teams at generating strikeouts and keeping the pressure off of their defense.
Left fielder Zach Cole leads the MAC in OPS at 1.331. He also leads the nation with nine triples this season. As a team, Ball State has hit 26 triples which is good for third in the nation.
The bullpen is led by Ryan Brown, Casey Bargo, and the MAC saves leader Sam Klein. Klein has 11 saves this season and has only given up one extra-base hit. Brown and Barge each have an ERA of 2.50 or less with at least 31 innings pitched.
They will power their runs home and utilize strong pitching and the best remaining bullpen to prevent runs. Beating them twice is going to be a tall task.
#2 Central Michigan Chippewas
The Central Michigan strategy has been obvious since the preseason. They returned high on-base percentage hitters and excellent starting pitching. The Chippewas have done exactly that this season with the lowest team ERA and the highest on-base percentage in the MAC.
Mario Camilletti, Justin Simpson, Adam Proctor and Jakob Marsee are all in the top seven in OBP of qualified hitters in the MAC season. Each hitter has over 20 walks to their name and gets on base one way or another.
Their starting pitchers are where they truly shine. They have pitched more innings than the rest of the teams in the tournament with about 64% of the innings coming from their starters. Andrew Taylor, Jordan Patty and Garrett Navarra have the fourth, fifth, and sixth ranked earned run averages in the conference. They are 2.52, 3.06 and 3.38 respectively.
Andrew Taylor is definitely the pitcher they want on the mound as often and for as many innings as possible.
The Chips are going to stress opposing pitchers with runners on base as often as possible and their pitchers are going to make hitters' lives very difficult. They run into trouble when the bats can’t push a run across. They need one more power hitter in the lineup to be a truly dangerous offense.
#3 Toledo Rockets
The Rocket's strength lies in their pitching. An ERA of 4.84 in the conference is not an eye-popping number, but in the MAC that’s a solid third place. There is daylight between themselves and the top two and they are a half run better than Miami in 4th.
They might have the perfect amount of pitching to make a run in the tournament. Their pitching staff lacks depth and consistency like Ball State and Central Michigan have, but in a double-elimination tournament with no scheduled doubleheaders until the optional final game, they might get away with it.
Kyle Jones is one of the best pitchers in the MAC this year, and he leads the MAC in innings pitched and strikeouts. Connor Brandon is another innings eater with more than nine strikeouts per nine innings, and Camryn Szynski was added to the rotation later in the season. Szynski has the best ERA of the bunch.
From the bullpen, they have super reliever Cal McAninch who pitched 38 innings in the 18 MAC games he appeared in. He doesn’t walk batters and routinely pitches multiple innings. Kyle Pijaszek emerged late in the season and has only pitched 16 innings, but they’ve been good innings. His ERA is 2.25 and his WHIP is 1.06. Great numbers for a reliever.
The Rockets have a tough time generating runs consistently. Their pitching is good enough to win a tight, low scoring game, but if their pitchers don’t have it that day they struggle to keep up. Toledo has been held to four runs and under in 16 of their 39 MAC games. They won a good amount of those games but the other teams in the tournament do not have issues scoring. Toledo’s hitters are going to have to figure it out on the fly.
#4 Ohio Bobcats
The Ohio Bobcats are a mirror image of the Toledo Rockets. They hit the ball well but are inconsistent on the mound. Overall, they were third in the conference in runs per game, about .75 runs per game behind the leader, Ball State.
Will Sturek became a starter in the Bobcat outfield rotation during the Eastern Michigan series in the middle of April. Once he was in the lineup, he lit up the MAC pitchers. He qualifies for the MAC leaderboards as a hitter and leads the league in batting average and on base percentage.
The Bobcats have home run power up and down their lineup. Mason Minzey, Isaiah Peterson and AJ Rausch all have an OPS over .950 and combined for 22 home runs. A mistake pitch to any hitter on this team can result in runs on the board.
Edward Kutt IV has been the workhorse for the Bobcat pitchers. He has pitched 62.2 innings, third in the MAC, and is the only Bobcat starter that has a start in every series. Brendan Roder and Hudson Boncal have been regular starters, but Ohio has been searching for consistency. Brett Manis is a high strikeout pitcher out of the bullpen and leads the team with four saves.
The Ohio coaching staff is taking a conservative approach to pitcher usage, which is good for the athletes. No pitcher has more than 12 appearances in 10 MAC baseball weekends. That might be adjusted in the tournament.
Ohio is going to score runs, no doubts about that. They need to limit the runs scored to pull some upsets.
“Of The Weeks”
Hitter of the Week: Zach Cole, Ball State, Left Field
Zach Cole hit his 11th triple of the year to lead the nation in triples hit. He was a menace to the Miami pitchers with two doubles and two home runs in addition to the triple.
Cole had ten hits in total, scored five runs, drove in eight runs and stole a base. His 1.172 OPS leads the MAC for his entire season, and his conference-only OPS of 1.331 is 63 points clear of the next player.
He is a MAC Player of the Year candidate if there ever was one.
Best Start of the Week: Ben Cruikshank, Kent State
Despite being eliminated the day before, Ben Cruikshank delivered a masterpiece in his final start of the season. The redshirt junior pitched a complete game shutout allowing one hit, three walks and striking out eight.
The Eastern Michigan hitters had an 0.045 batting average against him on Friday in game two. The lone hit came in the fourth from Matt Kirk on a single up the middle. He was one batter away from the MAC's first no-hitter of the season.
Cruikshank finishes the season with a 3-3 record and a 4.86 ERA.
Reliever of the Week: Sam Klein, Ball State
Sam Klein is a regular for the Reliever of the Week award and his two appearances against Miami were spectacular. His final line was two saves in 3.1 innings pitched with three strikeouts.
No walks. No hits.
With the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh of a 5-4 game, he came in and got a double play with two pitches. He closed down the game and Ball State won 7-4 to take the conference standings lead.
In game two, there were runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the seventh of a 4-2 game. Ryan Brown had just walked a batter to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Klein got a flyout to left and won a seven-pitch battle with a strikeout to end the game.
Conference series review
Toledo (32-23, 23-16) at Central Michigan (38-16, 30-7)
|Starter ERA||3.31||Starter ERA||3.78|
Walks lead to runs, especially in this series. The hitting starts are pretty depressed, but the scoring isn’t as much as an averaged 0.650 OPS would suggest. The two teams combined for one home run and 23 walks.
Central Michigan won each of their two games with a big inning. They had a seven-run sixth inning in game two and a six-run sixth inning in game three. Toledo was doing everything they could to keep pace, but crooked numbers from the other team is their kryptonite. They need their pitchers and defense to keep the game close.
Mason Sykes for Toledo did everything he could to keep Toledo in it with six hits and scored five of the twelve runs for the Rockets.
On the other side, big innings have a way of spreading the stats out. The hitters didn’t perform each time they came up, they played well all at the same time in the same inning in consecutive at bats. That being said, the usual suspects had good weekends. Adam Proctor, Jakob Marsee and Mario Camilletti were the team leaders in wOBA, each with at least three hits.
Ball State (38-17, 32-7) at Miami (23-33, 18-22)
|Starter ERA||2.74||Starter ERA||8.15|
Ball State pitchers collectively did not give Miami any room to make things interesting for the MAC standings. Over the four-game series, they only allowed nine runs and struck out 47 batters.
The RedHawks reached base at a 0.266 pace. That’s about the equivalent of 2.5 batters reaching base every time through the lineup. It’s tough to score runs with only 18 hits and 13 walks over the four games.
Ball State was an above-average MAC offense this week but not earth-shattering. However, they did dominate the series. The top five hitters by wOBA that had more than two at bats were all from Ball State.
Trennor O’Donnel and Nate Dohm had great starts in games three and four for the Cardinals. One of these two might get transitioned to the bullpen for the tournament, and what an asset that is going to be. A pitcher that can give 100+ pitches in the bullpen would allow the coaches to be aggressive with their pitching changes and play for right now, not later in the series.
Western Michigan (18-36, 15-24) at Ohio (29-22, 21-15)
|Starter ERA||8.41||Starter ERA||5.82|
Ohio sealed the deal on Thursday and didn’t let off the gas. Easton Sikorski pitched a gem for the Broncos in game two, but it was all Bobcats the rest of the way.
Edward Kutt and Brett Manis pitched the entire game on Thursday to start the series with an 8-5 win. Cael Baker and Nick Dolan hit back-to-back home runs in the sixth inning to push the score to 6-4, enough runs to get the win.
Easton Sikorski has been in and out of the lineup for the Broncos this season but finished 2022 off with a bang. He pitched a complete game two-hitter, allowing one run and striking out four. Spencer Harbert broke the shutout in the bottom of the seventh with a double.
Will Sturek hit three home runs in game three and the Bobcats scored six runs in the fourth inning of game four to finish the series with three wins.
Eastern Michigan (22-34, 16-24) at Kent State (24-29, 19-19)
|Starter ERA||6.14||Starter ERA||5.21|
Kent State had a sliver of a chance coming into the weekend and played a tough series with Eastern Michigan. They won three of four and probably would’ve played the last game a little differently if the season were in the balance.
The Eagles didn’t play poorly either. They played a series that perfectly represents the rest of their season. The stats are even across the board but they have one win to show for it. They dropped two one-run games and finished with a seven-run win.
The Flashes and Eagles essentially played two one-run games, Ben Cruikshank dominated one game and the Eagles bats took over the finale.
Both teams are probably disappointed with the way the season went, but both played well throughout the season.
Bowling Green (18-34, 14-24) at Northern Illinois (14-40, 13-25)
|Starter ERA||12.15||Starter ERA||9.28|
Bowling Green and Northern Illinois played for pride this weekend and ninth place in the conference. Both teams were eliminated coming into the series but who finished in front of the other was on the line.
The Falcons and Huskies played to a split and Bowling Green held on to the ninth spot. The series was a tough scene for the pitchers. Over the four games, 72 runs were scored, effectively the average score was 10-8 with the Huskies on top.
Jeremy Spezia was a bright spot for the Falcons out of the bullpen and pitched five innings without allowing a run. He picked up the win in game one.
Every NIU hitter that registered an at bat got at least one hit. Jack Blazevich only had three at bats and picked up two hits. The closest call was Andre Demetral with only one hit in seven at bats, but he did walk six times.
Purdue Fort Worth (18-35) at Akron (15-41, 11-29)
|Starter ERA||6.30||Starter ERA||3.71|
Akron won their last series of the season to finish the season on a high note. Akron and Purdue Ft. Wayne traded one-run games in a doubleheader on Friday and Akron laid down the hammer in an 11-0 win to finish the season.
The Zips wanted more out of this season, but realistically, it’s their fourth season back from not having a team anymore. Their roster is full of grad transfers now, but they are on their way to normalcy.
Nick Arrivo finished his college career with an eight hit weekend with ten runs batted in. Two home runs and a triple push his series OPS to 1.231. Connor Steinbaugh and Jacob Krausher combined to pitch a shutout in the season finale. Steinbaugh has been excellent for the Zips and pitched four innings of one hit, zero walks baseball.