The Bowling Green Falcons rode a late-season charge to the 2013 MAC Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Could something similar be brewing now?
The Falcons traveled to Akron, Ohio for a three-game weekend series with the Akron Zips. BGSU went to Akron with a 5-7 record in MAC games, while the host Zips had begun the season with a surprising 9-3 MAC record. Three days later, the Falcons went back to Bowling Green with a set of three wins, and they left the Zips to question whether that early season magic was gone.
Friday's series opener got off to a familiar start for both teams. John Valek retired BGSU in order to open the game, and the Zips took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Devan Ahart and Brian Lees notched back-to-back two-out hits off BGSU starter Mike Frank. The Falcons were able to get only one baserunner during the first three innings, but Frank held Akron after the initial run.
Jake Thomas and Jeremy Shay led off the fourth with singles for Bowling Green, and Valek advanced both on a balk and then a wild pitch. Thomas scored on the wild pitch to tie the game at 1. T.J. Losby broke the tie by lacing a single down the left field line, and Brandon Howard followed with another hit. After a fielder's choice, Logan Walker posted the fifth hit of the inning for BGSU, but Trey Keegan grounded into a double play to end the threat. Still, Bowling Green led 2-1 after 4 innings.
The Falcons generated more offense in the fifth. Jesse Rait and Brian Bien hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, and Shay walked after the runners had been moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. Losby posted another RBI single off Valek and drove home Rait and Bien for a 4-1 lead. Left fielder Kris Simonton booted the ball, and Losby was able to come all the way home from first for another run.
Bowling Green added a sixth run in the sixth off reliever Josh Davis when a Thomas single drove home Keegan, who had blasted a one-out double. However, Akron answered with a four-spot in the bottom of the seventh to close within 6-5. Five straight Zips batters reached to open the inning, thanks to three singles and two walks. Akron might have scored more, but Lees lined out into a double play to end the inning as Ahart was doubled off second base.
The game stayed 6-5 into the 9th, but BGSU put some distance with three more runs in the final inning. Thomas singled to lead off the inning, and Shay doubled him home for the first run. Shay then scored another run when Walker hit a based-loaded single. Losby scored the final run for a 9-5 lead after a Keegan ground out.
Akron didn't go away, but the four-run deficit proved to be just a bit too much to overcome. After a leadoff fly out, Ethan McKenney allowed a single and a walk. Ben Singer came in to finish off the game, and he immediately induced a force out at third. With two down and two on, Danny Lawrence singled to center and drove home two to halve the deficit, and an infield single then loaded the bases. However, Singer was able to induce Dom Iero to ground into a game-inning fielder's choice for the 9-7 victory.
The last spot and top four spots in BGSU's batting order were lethal as a group on Friday. They went a combined 13-for-23 with eight runs scored and five RBI. Thomas was 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Shay earned two hits and scored three runs. Losby was 3-for-5 and drove in three. For Akron, Matt Rembielak earned three hits in five at-bats and drove in two runs.
Frank got the win for BGSU. He allowed just one run in his first six innings before the Zips scored those four runs in the seventh. He posted five strikeouts to become just the third BGSU pitcher to ever reach the 200 strikeout plateau. He is also just 12 2/3 innings shy of BGSU's all-time record for innings pitched. Singer retired two batters in the ninth for his first save of the season. Valek took the loss by allowing four earned runs in five innings for Akron.
The second game of the series was nearly a carbon copy of the first. Akron did not score in the first, but the Zips held BGSU without any runs over the first three innings. The Falcons then scored six runs in the middle innings before giving up several to Akron in the seventh. Bowling Green finally exploded in the ninth to push across needed insurance runs and held off one finally rally by the Zips.
The Falcons opened scoring in the fourth. Jake Thomas led off the inning with a double, and, after a wild pitch, he came around to score on a Trey Keegan sacrifice fly. Patrick Lancaster drove home T.J. Losby with the inning's second run on a triple, and Lancaster came home thanks to a single by Brandon Howard.
Bowling Green added to their 3-0 lead in the fifth. Brian Bien knocked a single to right field and stole second. He moved to third when Shay was hit by a pitch and Losby walked. Keegan then hit his second sacrifice fly in two innings to plate Bien for a 4-0 edge.
The BGSU offense continued to pour on runs in their next time at the plate. With one out, Logan Walker walked and Jesse Rait was hit by a pitch. Bien singled home Walker for a 5-0 lead, and Thomas plated Rait with a sacrifice fly. Heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Falcons held a nice 6-0 lead.
Brett Fitzwater had started for BGSU and gave the Falcons four scoreless innings. Devin Daugherty relieved him and gave the Falcons two more scoreless frames. However, Akron fought back with three runs in the seventh. An error in right field by Rait allowed Devan Ahart to reach to start the inning. Brian Lees singled him home for Akron's first run of the game. Kris Simonton and Danny Lawrence followed with two more base hits.
On the Lawrence single, Daugherty threw wildly, and that allowed Lees to score while Simonton and Lawrence both moved into scoring position. Logan Walker made a great stop on a Grant Alvarez ground ball for the second out, but Simonton scored on the play. Daugherty finally got the third out, but Akron had cut the lead in half to 6-3.
Bowling Green scored some needed insurance in the ninth when the Falcons exploded for seven hits and five runs. Thomas grounded out to open the inning, but five straight hits followed. Shay singled, and Losby tripled him home. Losby then scored on a single by Keegan. Matt Smith ran for Keegan and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Patrick Lancaster added a run when he scored on a Brandon Howard single. Bien drove Howard home for the final run of the inning and an 11-3 lead.
Akron was able to generate two runs with four hits in the bottom of the ninth, but it was not nearly enough as BGSU captured the series victory with an 11-5 win.
Bien had another solid game with four hits in six at-bats plus a run and two RBI. Keegan had only one hit but drove in three. The bottom of the order also produced, as Lancaster, Howard and Rait each posted two hits, and the three combined for four runs and three RBI. Lees earned two hits for Akron and scored two of the Zips' five runs.
Daugherty notched his fourth win of the season for BGSU. He allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings, but only two of those were earned. Fitzwater did not allow a run in his four innings of work and worked around six walks by giving up just two hits. J.T. Brubaker dropped to 3-3 for Akron by giving up four runs in just 4 1/3 innings.
Andrew Lacinak threw seven fantastic innings and the Falcons benefited from four Akron errors as Bowling Green earned the weekend sweep with a comfortable 8-1 victory over the Zips on Sunday.
The Falcons finally broke through early with a first inning run to open the scoring. Jeremy Shay and T.J. Losby were on second and first base, respectively, with two out. Trey Keegan grounded a 2-2 pitch to Matt Rembielak at shortstop, but Rembielak couldn't handle the ball. Keegan reached to load the bases on the error. On the next pitch, Akron starter Myles McVeigh hurled a pitch to the backstop, and Shay scored the game's first run. Patrick Lancaster walked to re-load the bases, but McVeigh struck out Brandon Howard to end the threat.
Akron tied the game in the bottom of the second. The Zips started the inning with three straight singles that loaded the bases against Lacinak. Lacinak induced an infield pop fly to Logan Walker at second base, but Danny Lawrence followed with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brian Lees. James Sheltrown had a chance to give Akron the lead, but Lacinak got him to ground out to Howard to end the inning.
Bowling Green immediately answered in the third with four runs and took control of the game. Shay ripped a single through the right side to start the inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Losby drove him home with a base hit. Lancaster and Howard followed up with another pair of singles. Howard's hit drove home Losby, and Lancaster followed him to the plate after an error in center field by Devan Ahart. Howard moved up to second on Ahart's error, then stole third. On the steal attempt, Lees' throw to third was wild, and Howard trotted home for a 5-1 lead.
Another error led to two more Falcon runs in the sixth inning, and BGSU added another run in the ninth for a final score of 8-1.
Five different BGSU players posted at least two hits on Sunday, and six players scored at least one run. Shay and Howard each scored two. Kris Simonton and Billy Salem notched two hits apiece for Akron.
Lacinak allowed only one run and six hits in his seven innings, and he earned the win to improve to 4-3 on the season. Tony Landi and Trevor Blaylock both pitched perfect innings in relief. McVeigh allowed five runs (two earned) and six hits in 2 1/3 innings. He drops to 1-2 overall with the loss.
Individually, several Bowling Green batters had outstanding weekends. Bien was 8-for-16 with two runs and two RBI from the leadoff spot. Thomas earned six hits in 14 at-bats and scored four runs. Losby reached base 11 times with six hits and five walks in 16 plate appearances. He scored four runs and drove in five. Shay scored six runs. Rait posted six base hits, while Howard and Lancaster got five apiece. Each of those three scored three runs. Walker added three walks to his three hits, and while Keegan managed only two hits in 13 at-bats, he still drove in four runs.
Akron batters were not nearly as successful. Billy Salem led the team with six hits in 11 at-bats, and he walked three times. However, he scored only one run and didn't drive in any. Lees got four hits and walked two times, and he managed to score four runs and had two RBI.
Akron (20-17, 9-6 MAC) plays two mid-week games at home this week. On Tuesday, the Zips host Youngstown State, then they host Wright State on Wednesday. After that, the Zips play five straight road games. They face Buffalo in a weekend MAC series on the road, then have return trips to face the Penguins and Raiders next week.
Bowling Green (16-19, 8-7 MAC) is scheduled to play at Michigan on Tuesday. The Falcons return to MAC play next weekend when they host Kent State.