Preview: Baseball aims to cement place atop conference against in-state foe Eastern Michigan
The Central Michigan baseball team is on a tear.
So much so that the ballclub is up to first place in the Mid-American Conference with just seven regular season games remaining.
Sitting just one-game ahead of Ball State in the conference standings, the time is now for the Chippewas (36-12, 16-5 MAC) to either cement themselves at the top or make things a little more difficult to end the season.
Regardless of how the standings unfold, a three-game series looms against Eastern Michigan, one of the worst teams in the conference, from May 10-12 in Ypsilanti. While the Eagles (11-37-1, 6-15 MAC) are having a rough time this season, the Chippewas are riding an eight-game win streak – including six in conference play.
CMU hasn’t lost a MAC game since Toledo won, 4-3, April 19. Since that loss, the Chippewas have gone 10-1 with their only loss coming to nonconference opponent Division II Davenport, losing in a shootout, 26-19. CMU now leads the MAC and with six conference games, left they control their own destiny.
First-year coach Jordan Bischel's group currently has a one-game lead over Ball State (14-5 MAC).
After their victory May 8, Bischel elaborated on the recent success of the team heading into an in-state battle against the Eagles.
“We stress so much the importance of one game at a time and not riding a wave of emotion up or down,” Bischel said. “We really don’t talk about the streak but when you win that many in a row it means you’re playing pretty good baseball and that part is important.
“Guys are out of school and it gives a lot of freedom to make good or bad decisions. We gotta make the right ones and if we make the right ones and prepare, hopefully, we can keep rolling on Friday.”
During the streak, CMU has found plenty of ways to win. The latest victory, against NAIA Concordia, came after the Chippewas got down early and worked their way back into the game – eventually winning on a walk-off single. They have also had multiple games with plenty of firepower on offense.
One area CMU may be able to take advantage of is against EMU's pitching. The Eagles currently have the worst earned run average in the MAC and rank in the bottom half of most other major pitching categories.
The Chippewas will look to unleash their powerful bats, such as Griffin Lockwood-Powell. The sophomore is batting .333 with 10 home runs and he has 61 RBIs on the season. That RBI total puts him in the top 15 in the country.
Another batter to watch for the Chippewas is outfielder Zach Gilles. The lefty has reached base with a hit in his last six games.
On the mound, CMU's pitching has also been superb over the steak of wins. The rotation and relievers have allowed less than three runs per game, the most occurring when they beat Western Michigan 11-8 on April 28.
Cameron Brown and Pat Leatherman have been consistent for the most of the year and if CMU hopes to extend its streak, the pair need to deliver this weekend. Ryan Palmblad is one of the pitchers to watch out of the bullpen, as the freshman has 12 strikeouts in his last five relief appearances.
The first pitch for the first of a three-game series will be 6 p.m. May 10 at Oestrike Stadium in Ypsilanti.