Central Michigan won the 2022 MAC Baseball Tournament in dramatic fashion. They lost their second game to Ball State despite a five-run ninth-inning rally, and stormed back from deficits in each of their next three games.
Ball State had control of the tournament. They were the home team and undefeated in the championship game. It wasn’t enough to keep the Chippewas from their third consecutive national tournament.
Each day had its twists and turns either due to the weather or crooked numbers. Here’s a look at how it happened day by day.
Day One: Walk Off Wednesday
Toledo and Central Michigan opened up play in Muncie and set the tournament's tone. Big innings and responses punctuated the entire tournament.
Toledo scored five runs in the top of the third to take a 6-1 lead, and by the end of the third, it was a tie game at six runs apiece. Toledo pulled starter Kyle Jones before he could get an out in the third inning and CMU stayed the course with Andrew Taylor. Taylor pitched five complete innings.
In the top of the seventh inning, Mason Sykes drove in a run on a single to tie the game at eight. The game would stay that way until the ninth inning. Garret Pike and Mason Sykes went back-to-back to take a two-run lead, and that would seem like they put the game away.
Toledo brought in their third pitcher, Connor Brandon, a usual starter. They had no intention of saving pitching for the next game. Brandon did not have a great ninth inning. He gave up a one-out single, hit the next batter, and then a sharp single to load the bases. Adam Proctor hit a 2-2 single to get within a run, and then it got ugly.
Mario Camilletti drew a five-pitch walk to tie the game and Justin Simpson was walked on four pitches for the CMU win. Game one was a wild ride that ended in tragedy.
Ball State and Ohio started their game, but the weather interrupted their game. The worst outcome for either team might have been a complication like playing one inning. They were forced to shut down both pitchers and spend the night redoing the calculus of balancing a pitching staff.
Day Two: Play Resumes, Pitching Decisions
After the start time was pushed around from early morning to the eventual mid-afternoon start, Ball State sent a fresh arm to the mound. Tyler Schweitzer pitched the first inning of the game the previous day, and Ty Johnson took the mound on Thursday.
On the other side, Ohio gave the ball back to Edward Kutt IV. That decision was not a surprise. Ohio’s weakness in the tournament was always going to be pitching, so if the team’s best pitcher is willing to take the ball, he gets it.
Kutt gave the Bobcats a chance to win. After the first inning Ball State had a 2-0 lead. In Kutt’s final 4.2 innings he only allowed one more run. Kutt left the game with a 4-3 over the regular season champions.
Ty Johnson wasn’t as effective at scattering the hits and stranding runners. In his 4.1 innings on the mound, he allowed four earned runs on five hits and two walks. Ryan Brown and Sam Klein pitched the final 3.2 innings and only allowed one hit between them.
Their pitching was the difference in the game. Down the stretch, Ohio was unable to get anything going on offense and Ball State scored the tying run in the eighth inning on a wild pitch.
Ball State’s freshman designated hitter Hunter Dobbins hit a two-out two-run bomb to walk off the Bobcats in their opening game.
Due to the late start, no other games were played. Central Michigan and Toledo got an extra rest day as a result of the poor weather.
Day Three: Regular Season Domination Continues
Toledo and Ohio played a rain-soaked elimination game three to open day three. It was the perfect start for the Bobcats. Isaiah Peterson walked, AJ Rausch hit a single and Colin Kasperbauer drew a walk to load the bases with no one out.
On a 3-2 count, battling back from a 1-2 hole, Mason Minzey hit a no-doubter grand slam. Momentum was on their side, but only for a moment.
Toledo rallied and scored four in the bottom of the first to make it a tie ball game after one inning. Camryn Szynski started the game for the Rockets after they used up their top three pitchers in their opening loss to CMU. It took Szynski 47 pitches to get through the first inning, and if Ohio kept hitting, Toledo was looking like they might have to dig deep into their bullpen.
In hindsight, Toledo knew they had the pitching to win this game and they survived a big opening inning and tied it back up immediately. Ohio was held to one run on six hits the rest of the game and Toledo took a lead in the second inning they would not give up. Szynski ended up pitching five innings and only allowed those four runs.
Game four was the fifth game of the year between Central Michigan and Ball State. Tyler Schweitzer made his second start of the tournament for Ball State since he pitched one inning of the rain-delayed opener.
His domination of CMU continued. During the regular season, Schweitzer held Central Michigan to one run and one hit over seven innings. In the tournament on Friday, he tossed another gem. This time for eight innings and two runs.
Central Michigan showed life though. In a 9-2 game entering the top of the ninth, Ball State went to Mac Ayres. Ayres had only pitched ten innings in 2022 but had a solid 3.60 ERA. He was unable to record an out in the four batters that he faced and Sam Klein made his second appearance.
Klein wasn’t as clean as he would’ve liked to be and gave up a three run home run to the first batter he faced. After that, with essentially a clean inning and a 9-7 game, he ended the game with three strikeouts. It wasn’t pretty, but they were in the championship game.
Day Four: Central Michigan’s Turn
Day four started with an elimination game between Central Michigan and Toledo. An upset was brewing early when Mason Sykes hit a home run in the first and two runs were singled home in the fourth inning by Nicky Winterstein and Jeron Williams. After three and a half innings the Rockets had a 6-1 lead.
Central Michigan’s pitchers did not have an answer early. Logan Buczkowski started the game and lasted an inning and a third. He had walked three of the nine batters he had faced so the Chippewas turned to Jake Jones. Jones hit a batter, gave up five hits and three more runs. Adam Mrakitsch was the third pitcher to take the mound for CMU and took over with two outs in the fourth inning.
Mrakitsch was a monster for CMU the rest of the game. He allowed one more run, three hits and struck out five. The most impressive part of his performance was his efficiency. He faced 19 batters and threw 63 pitches in 5.1 innings. He averaged 3.3 pitches per batter to close out the game.
While Mrakitsch was dominating, the Toledo pitching staff was running on fumes. Connor Brandon started, he was relieved by Cal McAninch and closed out by Kyle Jones. They were all used in the tournament opener by Toledo but in a different order.
After throwing 65 pitches on Wednesday, Cal McAninch had a tough outing on Saturday. He entered in the fifth inning with a runner on first and a 6-2 lead. When he left in the sixth inning with one out, there was a runner on first and it was an 8-6 game the other way. Central Michigan took the lead and didn’t give it back.
Immediately after a great comeback win, CMU had to play Ball State for the sixth time of the year.
They sent Garrett Navarra to the mound and Ball State sent freshman Nate Dohm. Dohm was coming off of a great start against Miami where he struck out 13 batters but definitely had his ups and downs in 2022. Dohm and the pitcher who relieved him, Ryan Brown, struggled with walks and combined to give CMU eight free passes in six innings.
That combined with six errors killed Ball State. Garrett Navarra had his hand in that as well, he pitched six innings of one run ball with nine strikeouts, but six errors and nine total walks are hard to recover from. Of the nine walks, four of those runners scored.
Not all errors are created equally but Ryan Brown gave up six runs, none of them were earned. Five of the errors resulted in at least one more hitter coming to the plate for CMU and one moved a runner to third that would score on a sacrifice fly. Unearned runs count just as much as earned runs so the teams needed to come back on Sunday to find a tournament champion.
For the day, CMU won two games by a combined score of 22-10 and won how they had won all season. They drew 15 walks and cashed in on the good at bats. They found good pitching even if it wasn’t the first option. Adam Mrakitsch and Garrett Navarra combined for 11.1 innings of pitching and allowed two total runs.
Day Five: Relief Pitching Heroics
Championship Sunday. The season came down to one final game. Ball State sent out starting pitcher Trennor O’Donnell and Central Michigan, who had played one more game, sent out Jake Jones to make his first start of 2022.
Central Michigan scratched out a run with a two-out rally to open the scoring in the top of the first. Ball State responded with five runs in the bottom of the first. Jake Jones lasted one-third of an inning before being lifted for Andrew Taylor. Two runs had already been scored and there were runners on first and second. He couldn’t shut it down and allowed both inherited runners to score plus another on an error.
Central Michigan’s bullpen took over from this point on. Andrew Taylor gave up one more run over the next four innings, Ryan Palmblad gave up one more and Adam Mrakitsch and Jordan Patty did not give up any. Ball State only managed two runs over the final eight innings of the game. The tournament is punctuated by crooked numbers and big innings. An eight-inning drought was not good enough.
Ball State’s bullpen was stretched too far and failed at the end of the game. Sam Klein came in for O’Donnell with his weekend pitch count already at 40 pitches. He threw another 57 in 2.1 innings in the championship game and gave up a critical three run home run to Garrett Navarra. In hindsight, that was too many pitches. In the moment, one out with two on in the seventh and a two-run lead, who else would Ball State want on the hill?
Ball State would tie it in the bottom of the seventh, and then try to get something out of Tyler Schweitzer on one day of rest. He couldn’t record an out. Ty Johnson came in after two doubles were hit and got out of the inning, but the damage was done. Mario Camilletti hit a two-run homer in the ninth to put the game out of reach.
Central Michigan punched its ticket to the national tournament for its third consecutive season and is going to show up battle tested. They were trailing in every game they played and by at least four runs in three of their wins.
They head to the Gainesville regional and will start with the Florida Gators on Friday.
Player of the Tournament
Garrett Navarra, Left Field/DH/Pitcher, Central Michigan
Garrett Navarra did everything for Central Michigan. He pitched and hit, as he has done all season, and did both exceptionally well. His teammates call him Tournament Garry and Tournament Garry carried the team.
At the plate, he went 7-14 with two doubles and two home runs. He scored seven runs, drove in eight, got hit by a pitch, and drew four walks. His tournament on base percentage was an even 0.600. His OPS was 1.671. He was 400 points higher than the next hitter for CMU.
On top of his 15 total bases, he pitched more innings in the tournament than anyone else. His team did play the most games, but ten innings pitched and 196 pitches over the weekend is incredible. He struck out 13 for a tournament high, and allowed five earned runs.
That may seem high but the tournament was dominated by hitters. The tournament ERA was 7.75 and the WHIP was 1.94. Navarra had a tournament ERA of 4.50 and WHIP of 1.50.
He needs to rest up because CMU is going to need Tournament Garry again this weekend.