Time is running out in the regular season and five teams are making their case for the MAC Tournament. Three are essentially locked in and vying to host the tournament, while two programs are in the midst of fighting for the final spot.
This week had three series with a dominant team, and two that were separated by a handful of runs. Kent State and Toledo swept their series in convincing fashion and Central Michigan dominated two games. Eastern Michigan held the Chippewas to one run in game one and made sure they didn’t leave Mount Pleasant empty-handed.
Miami and Ball State won their series but Miami was +3 in total run differential and Ball State was +1. The winner of each series came down to timely hitting and taking advantage of the game situations.
There’s not much left! Let’s get into week 12:
Kent State sweeps WMU, Ohio barely back in at #4
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||GB||Runs For||Runs Ag.||Win||Loss||Runs For||Runs Ag.|
|Kent State Golden Flashes||19||5||+5||188||103||34||13||395||219|
|Central Michigan Chippewas||17||7||+3||177||102||31||15||360||225|
|Ball State Cardinals||17||7||+3||194||141||30||16||349||271|
|Western Michigan Broncos||13||10||0.5||153||146||16||27||273||355|
|Bowling Green Falcons||9||15||5||124||139||16||27||236||285|
|Eastern Michigan Eagles||8||16||6||150||202||22||23||344||337|
|Northern Illinois Huskies||4||19||9.5||130||241||8||38||240||435|
Western Michigan and Ohio entered the weekend separated by a half-game, and each had their hands full with opponents that are a combined +138 in run differential.
Kent State swept the Broncos and none of the games were close. Ohio was able to take advantage of sloppy baseball from the Cardinals and win the middle game of the series. The Bobcats moved back into fourth place in the standings with the win, but still only by a half-game.
Despite winning two games, the Cardinals won’t be excited about a potential meeting with the Bobcats in the MAC Tournament. Ball State won game one 5-3, lost game two 3-5 and won the finale 7-6. The margin in this series was next to nothing and tournament pressure could lead to some funny business on both sides.
Kent State left no doubt they were the better team and held Western Michigan to six total runs. Their pitchers dominated the series after the bats gave them early leads. The damage to the Broncos is limited by Ohio only going 1-2, and they play the Bobcats head-to-head this week.
Central Michigan’s Adam Mrakitsch was outdueled in the first game by Thomas House of Eastern Michigan, but the Chippewas wouldn’t let that happen again. Central Michigan scored 24 runs in the second game of the series with 20 hits, eight of them doubles and eight walks. In game three the Eastern Michigan bullpen gave up six total runs in the seventh and eighth innings to allow Central to come back. At the end of the series, Central Michigan and Ball State remain tied in record and the Chippewas hold the tiebreaker in head-to-head record.
Lower in the standings, Toledo moves into sixth this week after sweeping Northern Illinois. Miami won two games in their series against Akron and fell behind the Rockets. Both have the slimmest, outside shot at the fourth spot. Toledo has six remaining games in the conference and would need to win all of them and get some help. Miami only has three games remaining. They have their non-conference weekend in the final week of the season and won’t be able to help themselves if things are breaking the right way.
Final Two Weeks: MAC Tournament host and final spot on the line
Two weekends of baseball are all that remain. Kent State has a two-game lead for first place and to host the MAC Tournament. Ball State and Central Michigan are each two games behind, and Ohio and Western Michigan are in a battle for the final spot.
Kent State does not play a home conference series for the rest of the season. They travel to Eastern Michigan (8-16) and to Ball State (17-7) to finish the season. Hosting the conference tournament is squarely theirs to lose. Eastern Michigan is tougher than their 8-16 record shows. The Eagles can score runs quickly, but they’ve been inconsistent during conference play. The pitching staff for the Flashes needs to limit their big innings and they will take care of business and could maintain their two-game lead heading into the last week.
Ball State is going to be the biggest Eastern Michigan fan this weekend while they try to close the gap in their own series at home against Miami. Miami’s pitching staff makes them a tricky opponent for the Cardinals. Miami is 12-15 with a pitching staff at about the same level as the Cardinals. Both are high strikeout, high walk teams, but Ball State has scored the most runs in the league in conference games. If Ball State can turn in three games of good at-bats like they have all season, they’ll be fine. The final series of the season is going to be intense against Kent State. The conference tournament is essentially a week longer for the Cardinals and Golden Flashes.
Central Michigan has a shot at hosting, but they don’t control their destiny. If they win their final six games, they might be the odds-on favorite to host the tournament. They hold the tiebreaker over Kent State and Ball State and have two middle-of-the-MAC teams left to play. The Chippewas hit the road for both series, Toledo first and Western Michigan second. Both teams are offense-led, but Central Michigan has statistically the best pitching staff in the MAC, especially their starters. The Ball State vs Kent State series can’t end in a sweep either way or the MAC Tournament in Mount Pleasant is not likely.
Ohio and Western Michigan are just trying to make the tournament. Ohio has the easier schedule and it’s not close. They play each other this week in a huge series. The Broncos' best unit is their offense, while Ohio has the second-best bullpen in the MAC by ERA and WHIP. They win games when their offense is consistently producing runs and they can get to the stoppers in the back end. Western Michigan’s bullpen is ninth in ERA and WHIP and essentially needs the opposite. They need their starters to turn in good innings and go deep in games. Once they get past their top two or three relievers, it’s very thin.
This weekend will realistically be won 2-1 by someone. If it's Ohio, they extend their lead to a game and a half, if it's WMU they take the half-game lead back before the final series. In that final series, Ohio heads to Akron and Western Michigan hosts Central Michigan. Central Michigan will be heavy favorites and still playing to host the tournament. It’s going to be a tough road for the Broncos if they need to win that series to make the tournament. Akron isn’t a pushover, but they’re not eyeing the MAC Tournament this year.
No matter what happens this weekend, next weekend will have stakes. This weekend will set the stage for the final week and we could have a three-way race for the #1 seed and the fourth seed separated by a half-game before the first pitch.
All-MAC Team Preview
I’ve been putting together a team of the week this season, and with two weeks left, let's look at the best at each position. This is a list of the players named to the Team of the Week the most. These guys will probably litter the year-end award lists, but the team of the week has one major difference from the All-MAC Teams.
The Team of the Week captures the best week at that position. The All-MAC Teams care about the season as a whole. Big weeks are needed, but ordinary weeks still have to be pretty good. All-MAC teams also break out the infield positions and I do not.
- Mason Minzey, Ohio - 3 Times
- Justin Miknis, Kent St - 2
- Kyle Gurney, BGSU - 2
- Aidan Longwell, Kent St - 5
- Ryan Peltier, Ball St - 4
- Three players tied - 3
- Jeron Williams, Toledo - 6
- Taylor Hopkins, EMU - 3
- Three players tied - 2
- Matt Kirk, EMU - 4
- Decker Scheffler, Ball St - 4
- Eight players tied - 2
- Ryland Zaborowski, Miami - 3
- Josh Kross, EMU - 2
- Darren Kraft, EMU - 2
- Ben Cruikshank, Kent St - 5
- Connor Oliver, Miami - 4
- Four players tied - 3
- Sam Klein, Ball St - 3
- Mitchell Scott, Kent St - 3
- Six players tied - 2
Jeron Williams has appeared six times at middle infield, the most for any one position. He’s one of the best bats in the MAC and he’s at a premium defensive position. Shortstop is generally a defense-first position, but his 83 hits and 46 stolen bases lead the MAC. He’s one of two players in the MAC hitting over 0.400 and has a serious case for MAC Player of the Year.
The only player with more appearances on the list is the only other player hitting over 0.400. Kent State’s Aidan Longwell has made the list five times at the corner infield position, once as an extra hitter (the best hitter that didn’t lead their position that week) and once as a starting pitcher. Kent State had him starting their midweek games and he was always solid and spectacular once.
Relievers have the most players that have made the list which isn’t a surprise. Their usage is the most inconsistent and one good appearance can get the player on the list. It’s not a surprise that Sam Klein and Mitchell Scott top the list. They turn in a good outing almost every time they get the ball. The pitchers tied at two appearances are the usual suspects as well. Cal McAninch, Ryan Palmblad, Connar Penrod, Brennan McCune, Hudson Leach and Ty Johnson have all been excellent from the pen.
Ben Cruikshank has been the most consistent starting pitcher, even if he’s not the most flashy. Connor Oliver leads the MAC in strikeouts, and Adam Mrakitsch (tied for third) leads the MAC in innings pitched and WHIP as a starter. The top group of pitchers all dominate the Friday matchups.
|MAC Team of the Week|
|C||Mason Minzey||Ohio||5-11, 2 Runs, 2 RBI, HR, 2 BB|
|Corner IF||Alec Patino||Ohio||4-10, 3 Runs, 4 RBI, 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, HBP|
|Corner IF||Evan Appelwick||Miami||6-14, 4 Runs, 7 RBI, 2 2B, 3 HR, 3 BB, SB, HBP|
|Mid IF||Jeron Williams||Toledo||8-15, 6 Runs, 4 RBI, 2 2B, HR, BB, 7 SB, Sac Fly|
|Mid IF||Dillon Baker||Miami||8-17, 5 Runs, 6 RBI, 3 2B, HR, SB, HBP|
|OF||Mason Sykes||Toledo||6-12, 3 Runs, 4 RBI, HR, BB, 2 SB, 3 HBP|
|OF||Logan Hugo||EMU||4-10, 4 Runs, 2 RBI, 3 2B, HR, BB|
|OF||Decker Scheffler||Ball St||6-11, Run, 3 RBI, 2B, HBP|
|Extra Hitter||Aidan Longwell||Kent St||6-14, 5 Runs, 4 RBI, 3 2B, HR, 4 BB|
|SP||Joe Whitman||Kent St||Win, 5 IP, H, 2 BB, 9 K, HBP|
|SP||Kenten Egbert||Miami||Win, 7 IP, 5 H, 8 K, HBP|
|SP||Thomas House||EMU||6.1 IP, 6 H, R, ER, BB, 7 K|
|RP||Calvin Bickerstaff||Kent St||Save, 2 Apps, 5.1 IP, 3 H, R, ER, 4 K|
|RP||Tommy Meyer||NIU||Win, 2 Apps, 4 IP, 3 H, 7 K, HBP|
|RP||Mason Ruh||NIU||Loss, Save, 2 Apps, 3.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, BB, 7 K, HBP|
Evan Appelwick exploded for a huge week and makes the Team of the Week for the first time. The Miami RedHawk was an extra-base machine. Five of his six hits went for extra bases, three went over the fence. In the series finale against Akron, Appelwick went back-to-back with Dillon Baker for the only runs Miami would score.
Jeron Williams has been a stolen base machine and added seven to his season total this week. Williams has 46 stolen bases for the season, a huge asset for the Toledo offense. To get that many he has to be excellent at getting on base and he has added 46 total bases to his stat line with his legs. Win probability added isn’t measured in the MAC, but he might top the list with his defense and base running giving him a major boost.
Eastern Michigan lost the final two games against Central Michigan, but not because of Logan Hugo. Hugo had three doubles in game two and a home run in game three. All four of his hits were for extra bases and he scored twice. Eastern Michigan was able to get their win on the arm of Thomas House and his 6.1 innings of one-run ball. He shut down the Chippewas and earned the win.
Joe Whitman had a low-stress outing for the Kent State Golden Flashes in game two against Western Michigan. His offense gave him two runs in the first, two in the third and five in the fourth. It allowed Whitman to put his head down and dominate the Bronco hitters without needing to be perfect. With that pressure removed, pitched five innings and allowed a single hit while striking out nine.
Mason Ruh was a tough-luck loser for Northern Illinois. None of the runs he allowed were earned so he had to do it himself. He struck out seven batters of the eleven outs he recorded.
|5-3||Miami RedHawks||12-2||So. Indiana Eagles|
|5-5||Akron Zips||12-13||Miami RedHawks|
|5-6||Akron Zips||0-10||Miami RedHawks|
|5-7||Akron Zips||10-2||Miami RedHawks|
|Next Opp.||vs Kent St (Tue), at Notre Dame||Next Opp.||at Ball St|
|5-5||Ball State Cardinals||5-3||Ohio Bobcats|
|5-6||Ball State Cardinals||3-5||Ohio Bobcats|
|5-6||Ball State Cardinals||7-6||Ohio Bobcats|
|Next Opp.||at Indiana St (Tue), vs Miami||Next Opp.||at Marshall (Tue), at Western Michigan|
|5-5||Eastern Michigan Eagles||3-1||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|5-6||Eastern Michigan Eagles||4-24||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|5-7||Eastern Michigan Eagles||5-7||Central Michigan Chippewas|
|Next Opp.||at Michigan St (Wed), vs Kent St||Next Opp.||at Ohio St (Wed), at Toledo|
|5-3||Kent State Golden Flashes||5-7||Michigan Wolverines|
|5-5||Western Michigan Broncos||0-5||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|5-6||Western Michigan Broncos||5-12||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|5-7||Western Michigan Broncos||1-11 F/8||Kent State Golden Flashes|
|Next Opp.||at Valparaiso (Tue), vs Ohio||Next Opp.||at Akron (Tue), at Eastern Michigan|
|5-3||Northern Illinois Huskies||3-2||Milwaukee Panthers|
|5-5||Toledo Rockets||5-2 F/10||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|5-6||Toledo Rockets||7-4||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|5-7||Toledo Rockets||18-12||Northern Illinois Huskies|
|Next Opp.||at Oakland (Tue), vs Central Michigan||Next Opp.||at Bowling Green|
|5-3||Bowling Green Falcons||12-2||Oakland Grizzlies|
|5-6||Bowling Green Falcons||2-13||Virginia Tech Hokies|
|5-6||Bowling Green Falcons||0-12||Virginia Tech Hokies|
|Next Opp.||at Youngstown St (Tue), vs Northern Illinois|