Central Michigan University baseball posted one of the best Mid-American Conference records this season en route to a No. 2 overall seed in the weekend’s MAC Tournament in Avon, Ohio.
However, each of the competing teams’ records have been wiped clean heading into the eight-team double-elimination postseason tournament. A championship victory in the MAC bracket would mean an automatic bid into the NCAA Regional baseball tournament for the Chippewas.
Here is what stands between the Chippewas and that automatic bid.
A foreign foe
CMU is pitted against No. 7 seed Akron on Wednesday at 8 p.m to open the tournament. The Chippewas did not face Akron during the regular season.
Head coach Steve Jaksa sat senior pitcher Pat Kaminska during the Chippewas last series of the regular season last weekend. This time around, Kaminska will get the start Wednesday night as the Chippewas aim to start the tournament with a mid-week victory. The Chippewas went 6-3 in its mid-week games during this season, while Kaminska pitched himself to a team-best 8-2 record and 2.05 ERA in 2014.
“We are battle-tested, so to speak,” Jaksa said. “We’ve identified who our best guys are at this point and we have a lot of confidence heading into the tournament. Everybody is 0-0. We all have a chance to win it. Fighting our way through the losers bracket is tough, though. We don’t want to do that.”
The Zips finished 12-15 in the conference, but were an impressive 3-1 at neutral sites. The last time CMU played Akron was in May 2013. Hope abounds for CMU against Akron as junior and stolen-bases leader Nick Regnier knocked in four runs during the teams’ previous meeting.
Also giving hope to CMU is the fact that the Zips struggled to a lukewarm .258 team batting average and 12 combined home runs.
If the Chippewas can manufacture an early lead for Kaminska and play solid defense, Akron should do itself in just as it has all year. CMU likely makes it into the winners bracket with relative ease.
Revisiting the RedHawks (probably)
Assuming Miami (Ohio) gets past Buffalo – which barely finished at .500 this year – the Chippewas should face the RedHawks at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
CMU stayed in control of MU in 2014, sweeping the RedHawks by a combined score of 14-6. Junior right-hander Jordan Foley will likely to get the start Thursday, especially considering his numbers from his last start against the RedHawks.
Foley pitched six and 2/3 innings striking out six in CMU’s March 29 victory in Mount Pleasant. The RedHawks cranked out 281 RBI during the regular season yet displayed impressive patience at the plate, drawing 201 walks during the 2014 campaign.
“We have a lot of (pitchers) that we can use in more than one way,” Jaksa sad. “We want to make sure that we get whoever is on the mound as much insurance as we can. If we have three runs, let’s make it four (or) make it five. Our offense is an important part of the whole process of winning.”
If Foley can get his fastball moving the way he wants, CMU has a legitimate shot at starting the MAC Tournament with two victories. However, Jaksa and many of the Chippewas remember MU as the team that handed them their second loss at last year’s conference tournament – a tournament that ended CMU’s season. A 3-0 record against MU makes for a solid amount of confidence, but revenge should serve as the Chippewas biggest motivation to move on.
The elephant in the stadium
Everyone is talking about the No. 1 overall seed: Ball State University. The Cardinals cruised to 22-4 in MAC play, a conference best, and are looking to make the MAC Championship game in back-to-back seasons.
CMU was swept by BSU in 2014, scoring seven runs through three games at home. BSU’s offense is the best in the tournament, posting a .414 slugging percentage through 54 games this spring.
Luckily for the Chippewas, the Cardinals fall on the opposite side of the bracket than CMU. This means the only way the top two seeds in the tournament would play would be in the championship game at noon on Sunday.
“We wanted to be in their spot right now,” Jaksa said. “But by virtue of beating us at our place, they got that No. 1 seed. We know that to play them again, we’ve got to win our bracket. If they find their way through that bracket then we will happily play them in that championship game.”
If CMU is to get this far and takes on the top seed in the tournament in the championship game, it would be the end of the line for the Chippewas. Ball State is just too strong. They have been the superior team all season and would make it four – or five if necessary – in a row against CMU .
The Chippewas can only hope for an upset of BSU by another team. This would reshape the tournament field and morph CMU’s championship aspirations from a shot in the dark to a serious possibility.