CMU looks to keep pace in the MAC West 'one game at a time'
Once again, the Central Michigan softball team will head into this week fighting for the first place spot in the Mid-American Conference West division.
After winning four of its five contests this past week, CMU (23-11, 8-3) is in a tight race with Ball State (25-18, 9-2) for possession of first place in their journey towards the MAC West title.
Thanks to their offense and pitching, the Chippewas started the week with a victory over Western Michigan in a double-header.
CMU exploded on Western Michigan’s junior pitcher Holly VanTilberg for eight runs in the second inning, eventually leading to a 9-0 win in five innings.
Sophomore utility infielder Rachel Viera hit a 3-run homer, which was her third of the season, which highlighted the second inning.
Senior pitcher Rachael Knapp earned the win with complete dominance in the circle, going the complete game, allowing just one hit and striking out four Bronco hitters.
In game two, the offensive surge was slowed down by the Bronco’s sophomore pitcher Jordan Kurth, but CMU’s junior pitcher Hannah Warren was even better.
The Canton native went 6.2 innings before the Broncos actually had a real threat with runners on the corners and two outs in the last inning.
Head coach Margo Jonker decided to go with Knapp to close the deal, and she got a harmless fly out to end the game and complete the sweep for the Cbhippewas.
“I made the decision because it just seemed like a better matchup and obviously we didn't have a lot of room for error,” Jonker said. “Hanna gave us everything she had, and it was just the a better match up to me to have Knapp finish the game with the timing of the at-bat.”
Warren improved to 7-4 on the season and Knapp got her second save with the final out.
CMU’s lone run came on the team’s third home run of the afternoon, when sophomore Erika Underwood took one out of the yard over the left field fence for the eventual game winning run.
Following up that series, CMU stayed on the road to take on Akron for the weekend, where they won the overall series by taking two of the three games.
The first game was on Saturday, and it took the Chippewas 12 innings to pull out the victory to open up the weekend.
Knapp got the win (13), going the full 12 innings while allowing just seven hits and struck out 15 batters on the afternoon. The Zips freshman pitcher Lexie Handley took the loss, dropping her to 12-12 on the season.
CMU scored all four runs in the final inning, highlighted by the eventual game winning run scored by sophomore catcher Kayla Noch, beating a throw from the infield home.
It wasn't Jonker’s decision to risk the play at home plate.
“It was all her reaction,” Jonker said. “We talk about being aggressive on the base pads a lot, and I told her to be ready if (Noch) thought she had a chance. She made a play and it was big for us to get that run across.”
CMU then went on to split the double-header on Sunday, winning the first game 7-0 and losing the second game 6-2.
Knapp was once again the star of the afternoon, nailing her third win of the week down, improving her record to 14-6 on the season overall. She tossed the complete game, while only allowing three total hits and struck out seven.
Designated player Maison Kalina went 3-for-4 at the dish, knocking home a run and scoring one of her own to lead the CMU offensive charge.
In the series finale, it was CMU’s pitching that got hit around more than Akron’s pitchers.
Warren was charged with the loss, dropping to 7-5 on the season. She went 4.2 innings and allowed eight hits and five runs, but only two of those runs were earned. It was Handley snagging the win for the Zips, closing the game out in the last four innings by allowing just three hits and no runs.
The Chippewas will start this week against their in-state rivals once again, but this time it will only be a single game against the Broncos that will start at 2 p.m.
Then Toledo will welcome CMU for a three-game set this weekend, beginning with one game on Friday at 3 p.m. and then a double-header Saturday with the first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m.
Knapp said that this week is one where the team will need to keep the games individual rather than grouping them together.
“We need to focus on our own game rather than against the team we have to play,” Knapp said. “With the four games coming up, it'll be important for us to just take it one game at a time like we have all season long.”
The Broncos come in after losing three of their last five contests, while the Rockets did the opposite, winning three of their five games last week.
Jonker said that the main goal is pretty “simple” but they are preparing for different match ups.
“I’d like it if we could score runs, and keep the opponents from scoring,” Jonker said. “We anticipate facing a left handed pitcher tomorrow against Western (Michigan), so we've been working on throwing from different distance and with runners in scoring position. We are just working on scoring more runs for offense.”
This past week, Knapp continued to out up solid numbers and get wins, and that earned her the MAC West Pitcher of the week for the sixth time this season.
She pitched a total of 24.1 innings, allowed zero runs, and struck out 26 of the opposing batters she faced. Knapp now has a 1.32 earned run average and 187 strikeouts, which is good for seventh all-time in the CMU program record book.
On the other side, it was Kalina earning MAC West player of the week honors for the first time this season. The 5-foot-5 catcher led CMU at the plate, going 9-for-19 (.474 batting average), totaled six runs batted in, and scored two of her own.