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2023 Mid-American Conference Tournament Recap

Ball State are the MAC Champions and are the hottest team at the Lexington Regional. They performed under pressure, and were undefeated at the MAC Tournament.

Syndication: The Star Press Robby General / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ball State won the MAC Tournament in the minimum number of games, maintaining the trend of the host team not being able to win it all at home. The Cardinals showed off their slugging in all three games and excellent pitching in at least a portion of all three.

Kent State was statistically the best team in the MAC over the course of the season. The ups-and-downs over the course get smoothed out over enough games, but the MAC Tournament is six games. Capitalizing on scoring chances, or limiting the opponent, is what wins individual games. Ball State made the most of their opportunities and Western Michigan did not.

Lets go day-by-day as it happened!

Day 1 - May 24

Western Michigan 4
Kent State 6

Kent State won the tournament's opening game, but it wasn’t easy. The Broncos showed why they were there but couldn’t score when they had good chances. Kent State gave the ball to Jack Kartsonas on the mound for his ninth appearance and fourth start of the season. That was a bit of a risk, Ben Cruikshank and MAC Pitcher of the Year Joe Whitman watched from the dugout, but the Broncos couldn’t make the Flashes pay. Kartsonas had a good start against the Broncos on May 7th, but an opening game loss in a double-elimination tournament is devastating.

The Broncos gave the ball to their ace Brady Miller. He needed to be effective and go deep into the game to give the Broncos a chance and that’s precisely what he did. He pitched seven innings, gave up two runs, and left the game with the lead. Kartsonas pitched into, and out of, early trouble. The Broncos had seven plate appearances in the first two innings with runners in scoring position and scored one run. On the day, the Broncos had fifteen scoring chances and failed to get a hit in any of them.

Credit to the Kent State pitchers and their ability to tighten up in high-leverage situations. They kept the Golden Flashes in the game long enough for the hitters to get to Hayden Burg in the eighth. Aidan Longwell had a clutch two-RBI double in the sixth to break the seal and added another RBI in the eighth to tie the game. Two batters later Kyle Jackson hit a three run bomb to make it 6-3.

Cade Sullivan did everything he could and hit two solo shots for the Broncos, including one in the ninth to draw within two.

The Broncos had three innings with no outs and runners in scoring position and turned that into two runs from sacrifice flies. It wasn’t enough and that was the ball game.

Ball State 7
Central Michigan 6

Ball State and Central Michigan played a back-and-forth nightcap where both teams capitalized on scoring chances. Adam Mrakitsch and Ty Johnson predictably get the ball for the Chippewas and Cardinals and Ball State got to Mrakitsch in the first inning.

Ryan Peltier finished the regular season in a slump, but started the MAC Tournament with a single to left field. An error moved Peltier to third and put Decker Scheffler on second for Adam Tellier. Tellier put the 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for an early 3-0 lead.

That home run is the type of hit that created the separation in game two. Central Michigan and Ball State were about even in plate appearances with runners in scoring position 12 to 11 CMU, and each team had three hits in those situations. Each of Central Michigan’s hits were singles and Ball State had seven total bases in their three hits.

Tellier’s home run drove in three, Scheffler hit a double to score two runs in the fourth inning, and Hunter Dobbins drove in an important run from second in the eighth with a single.

Each team’s hitters were scoring runs in bunches through the middle innings, but Sam Klein was the star of the game. Garrett Navarra hit a home run to tie the game to start the bottom of the fifth, and Klein came in to shut down Central Michigan. He picked up the win in his 4.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits and a walk. The most impressive part of his outing was how he limited Central Michigan to zero scoring opportunities until the ninth inning.

Jack Donahue and Christian Mitchelle lead off the ninth with singles and were moved second and third with a Navarra ground out. Ryan Brown made his first appearance since mid-April to close out the game, but not before allowing one inherited runner to score. Nick Dardas struck out to end the game with the tying runner 90 feet away.

Day 2 - May 25

Western Michigan 2
Central Michigan 5

Western Michigan lost another game when they failed to convert their scoring opportunities into runs. The Broncos put runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, but Central Michigan starter Keegan Batka got out of it each time. The five plate appearances ended in two ground balls, an infield fly and two strikeouts in an impressive performance.

Hayden Burg started game three for the Broncos after pitching one inning the day before. Burg pitched six innings and gave up three runs, all of them in the third inning. Marquis Jackson turned around a 1-1 pitch for a two-run home run to take a 2-0 lead.

A pair of errors brought in another run in the third inning. Justin Simpson reached on an error by the third baseman and scored when Burg fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw it into center field.

Grady Mee doubled to start the seventh inning for the Broncos and created a scoring opportunity with no outs. Garrett Navarra struck out the first two batters he faced on eight pitches and it looked like the Chippewas would get out of the inning without damage. Cade Sullivan hit a single for his third RBI of the tournament and he moved to second on an outfield error. Gavin Doyle drove in another run with a double and the inning ended two batters later.

DJ Thompson took over on the mound for Western Michigan and got the first two batters out quickly. Then Jacob Donahue hit a double, for a two-out scoring chance. Christian Mitchelle drove him in with the help of another outfield error and Garret Navarra drove in Mitchelle with a single.

Central Michigan capitalized on their scoring chances at the plate, especially with two outs. Both teams did a good job of limiting the opponents scoring, but the two-run homer and scoring two runs when the inning started with a two-out double is where Central Michigan won this game. They moved on, and the Broncos tournament was over.

Ball State 6
Kent State 1

Ball State and Kent State played the afternoon game and based on the regular season series between these two teams, Ball State was in for a bad day. The Cardinals pitchers did not have an answer for Kent State and gave up 54 runs over three games.

MAC Pitcher of the Year Joe Whitman got the start for the Golden Flashes and Trennor O’Donnell, All-MAC Second Team, started for the Cardinals. Whitman pitched five innings of two hit baseball last time he faced Ball State and allowed a single run in 84 pitches. O’Donnell lasted only two innings and was relieved after 34 pitches and four runs on the board.

This time O’Donnell dominated the game. “Big Tex” was nothing short of spectacular as he pitched a complete game with eight strikeouts, five hits, and one unearned run. He limited the Golden Flashes to one plate appearance with a runner in scoring position until the ninth inning. Kent State was able to score a run in the ninth when the second baseman threw a ball past the first baseman. The threat was eliminated a batter later with the final strikeout for O’Donnell.

Whitman wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t able to match O’Donnell. Whitman pitched seven innings, gave up two earned runs (four total) and struck out seven batters. The Cardinals made the most of a good scoring opportunity in the fifth inning with two singles and a costly error that could’ve been ruled a double after Nick Gregory stole second to apply the pressure.

Ryan Peltier and Decker Scheffler hit singles with runners in scoring position in the ninth to put the game firmly out of reach for Kent State.

The Flashes’ gamble to hold Whitman out of the opening game of the tournament gave them their best chance to win this one, but O’Donnell was up to the task.

Day 3 - May 26

Central Michigan 2
Kent State 10

On Friday Central Michigan and Kent State played for the final spot in the MAC Championship Game. The Chippewas were the only team to get the measure on Kent State this season and won the early season series in Mount Pleasant. This game would end one of their seasons, which changes the math.

Benny Roebuck started his fourth game of the season and his first against MAC competition. Ben Cruikshank has yet to appear in a game for the Golden Flashes after starting 15 during the regular season. If it was purely to save him for the championship game and not some other reason, that’s a huge risk in an elimination game.

Central Michigan also gave Evan Waters his fourth start and first against a MAC opponent but they were pushed into it a little more. Adam Mrakitsch and Keegan Batka had already thrown 97 and 120 pitches in the tournament and their third starter, Garrett Navarra, threw 63 pitches against WMU the day before.

With both teams deep into their bullpens already, this game was full of scoring chances. The Chippewas had 22 plate appearances with runners in scoring position and the Flashes had 20. Like the first game of the tournament, Kent State repeatedly got out of jams with minimal damage. Central Michigan went 0-16 with runners in scoring position and only gave up runs on a sacrifice fly and a ground out to first with the bases loaded.

On the other side, Kent State went 6-15 and drove in all ten runs in innings where they got a runner to second before recording an out. They did that four times and scored each time. The score was 5-2 Kent State headed into the eighth inning and a three run lead is not safe in the MAC. Central Michigan averaged 7.5 runs per game this season.

Collin Mathews added two more with a single and scored on a Michael McNamara three-run blast to finish the scoring for the game.

Kent State would survive one more day and Central Michigan’s season ends outside the National Tournament field for the first time since 2018.

Day 4 - May 27

Ball State 12
Kent State 9

This game was #MACtion but for baseball. It had it all! Ball State steadily built an 8-2 lead through six innings on the back of another great start, this time from Ty Weatherly. He avoided hard contact throughout the Flashes lineup and stranded eight baserunners with only one strikeout.

Then the game got weird. Weatherly gave up a double to Jake Casey to start the bottom of the seventh and handed the ball to a well-rested bullpen. Sam Klein took the ball and he really struggled. Klein’s first two pitches got down for a double and single to plate two runs. After a groundout, Aidan Longwell singled to pull within three runs and Michael McNamara doubled to make 8-6.

Ryan Brown came in gave up a single and an RBI to Kyle Jackson, then couldn’t find the strike zone. His last eight pitches were balls to load the bases for reliever Jacob Hartlaub. Hartlaub gets on the Hustle Belt All-Tournament team almost solely for getting Jake Casey to strike out and Josh Mrozek to line out and end the inning.

Hartlaub would finish the game but not before walking Collin Mathews and giving up a home run to Justin Miknis.

With the lead and momentum with Kent State, Hartlaub put his head down and got three outs in the next four batters from the heart of the Golden Flashes lineup.

Mitchell Scott pitched the eighth inning and returned for the ninth, now with the lead. He led the MAC in saves, ERA and WHIP. This game is over nine times out of ten. With Ball State down to their final strike, it looked like the second championship game was going to be needed. Justin Conant hit the 2-2 pitch to the left field corner to extend the game. Ryan Peltier drew a walk on four pitches and Decker Scheffler drew a five-pitch walk. The pressure was on Scott and hitter Adam Peltier. He hit the most clutch grand slam of the season to take a 12-9 lead.

This game was decided by one run until that at bat. In terms of game-winning plays, that’s the one and it’s not close. Hartlaub’s performance to get out of the seventh was critical, but the home run given up the next inning negates it a little.

It was a wild finish to the season and it’s another year for the host team to leave the field empty-handed. The Ball State Cardinals have another hard-fought championship banner to hang.

Hustle Belt's All-Tournament Team
Hit Cade Sullivan WMU 4-7, 3 Runs, 3 RBI, 2 HR, 3 BB
Hit Adam Tellier Ball St 5-14, 5 Runs, 9 RBI, 2B, 2 HR, SB, HBP
Hit Collin Mathews Kent St 7-14, 4 Runs, 2 RBI, 2B, 2 BB, SB, 2 HBP
Hit Ryan Peltier Ball St 6-13, 5 Runs, 2 RBI, 2B, 3 BB
Hit Blake Bevis Ball St 5-13, 2 Runs, 3 RBI, 2B, HR, HBP
Hit Garrett Navarra CMU 4-12, Run, 3 RBI, 2B, HR, 2 BB, SB
Hit Kyle Jackson Kent St 5-15, 2 Runs, 4 RBI, 2B, HR, 3 BB, SB
Hit Christian Mitchelle CMU 5-11, 2 Runs, 2 BB, SB
Hit Decker Scheffler Ball St 6-14, 5 Runs, 4 RBI, 2B, 2 BB
P Trennor O'Donnell Ball St Win, CG, 9 IP, 5 H, R, 8 K
P Keegan Batka CMU Win, 6 IP, 6 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 7 K
P Brady Miller WMU 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, HBP
P Jacob Hartlaub Ball St Win, 2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 3 K
P Calvin Bickerstaff Kent St 3 Apps, 3 IP, 2 H, R, ER, BB, 5 K, 2 HBP
P Sam Klein Ball St Win, 2 Apps, 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, BB, 3 K

The Hustle Belt All-MAC Tournament team is positionless this week, and the best players and best pitching performances made the list. Cade Sullivan headlines the group despite playing two games. He hit two home runs and had an on-base percentage of .700 for the two games. It’s an extremely small sample, but any time the OPS starts with a two-dot, it’s a good sample.

Adam Tellier hit the championship-winning grand slam and drove in nine total runs over the three games that Ball State played. He’s joined by the rest of the top of the lineup, Ryan Peltier, Decker Scheffler and Blake Bevis. The team that led the MAC in slugging percentage slugged their way to MAC Tournament wins. All four hitters had at least one extra-base hit.

Trennor O’Donnell takes the top spot of the pitchers for his complete game that should have been a shutout. The ninth inning error allowed an almost meaningless run to score. That run kept the SO out of his box score and ask your favorite pitcher if the SO in CGSO means something to them.

Sam Klein had two outings and the good one gets him on the list. Four and a third innings pitched to get the win in the Cardinal’s opening game is a big deal. That game was very undecided before Klein shut them down. Jacob Hartlaub’s day wasn’t statistically great but he stopped the bleeding in Kent State’s big inning in the Championship Game and got the win. Stats are for nerds anyway.

Calvin Bickerstaff deserves a mention as well. He made three short appearances but was excellent in each. He came in, got outs and gave the ball to the next pitcher. Any team would take his 54 pitches in a tournament setting.

Ball State is headed to Lexington for the National Tournament

The Ball State Cardinals are the four seed in the Lexington Regional and will play in game one against the hosting Kentucky Wildcats. They will be joined by West Virginia and Indiana to determine who goes to a Super Regional.

The seeding for the National Tournament has caused a bit of drama in the college baseball community. Eight SEC teams were selected to be regional hosts and some notable teams were not considered, with the Big South’s Campbell Fighting Camels being the most notable.

Ball State comes in on a the high of a conference championship, which no other team in Lexington can say. Kentucky was the #8 seed in the SEC Tournament and lost their first game in the single elimination round. West Virginia was upset in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament and was bounced by the also upset Oklahoma State. Indiana was the second seed in the Big Ten and won their opening game, but lost the next two to Iowa and Michigan.

Ball State dropped both games they played against the Hoosiers, but they weren’t blowouts. Both teams also used their mid-week lineups and pitchers, so the 13-16 loss and the 8-9 loss may not reflect how a tournament game would go.

Ball State is the hottest team in the regional, let’s see if they can carry the momentum!