Central Michigan receives No. 3 seed in Starkville Region of NCAA Tournament

Central Michigan junior right-handed pitcher Zach Kohn and the Chippewa baseball team celebrate winning the MAC Tournament title May 25 at Sprenger Stadium.

John Cena is headed to the Starkville Region of the NCAA Tournament.

Well, to be more specific, it'll be the Central Michigan baseball team taking the plastic Cena action figure all the way to Starkville, Mississippi for a tournament the Chippewas haven't participated in for the last 24 years.

Others in the Starkville Region are No. 1 seed Mississippi State, No. 2 seed Miami (FL) and No. 4 seed Southern, meaning first-year coach Jordan Bischel's group is slated as the No. 3 seed.

Central Michigan will play Miami (FL) at 8 p.m. May 31 on ESPN3.

"The cool thing is that Mississippi State is one of the meccas of college baseball," said first-year coach Jordan Bischel. "The history of that program is going to be an awfully cool experience. Our guys are going to get a chance to compete with the absolute best of the best."

Regionals are from May 31 to June 3, Super Regionals are June 7-10 and, if the Chippewas can do it, the College World Series begins June 15.

"Our big challenge is to try not to change how we approach it," Bischel said. "We need to enjoy the experience and embracing the game. We also need to focus on the next game and not treat it any differently.

"We just want to compete as well as we can. On paper, most are going to say we are a pretty big underdog. But if you look at what we've done, we've been able to compete with ACC and Big Ten schools. I don't have any doubt that if we play well, we should see some good ball games."

The Chippewas enter the tournament 46-12 overall, just one victory short of a program record that was set back in 1988. CMU is also on an 18-game winning streak that led to the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament crown.

Central Michigan junior right-hander Zach Kohn hoists the MAC Tournament trophy on May 25 at Sprenger Stadium in Avon, Ohio.

Most recently, sophomore right-hander Jordan Patty delivered eight scoreless innings in a 6-0 win over Ball State to take the MAC Tournament championship on May 25 at Sprenger Stadium in Avon, Ohio. Patty's performance helped clinch berth to the NCAA Tournament.

When the Chippewas were last in the NCAA Tournament in 1995, the team lost to LSU in the opening round, defeated Louisiana-Monroe while facing elimination and then were dropped from the competition with another loss to LSU.

While Patty was the king on Saturday night, it's likely fifth-year senior right-hander Pat Leatherman will get the ball for the opening game of the NCAA Tournament. He has a 10-1 record with a 2.56 ERA, striking out 83 hitters in 84 1/3 innings this season.

"With how much fun we are having, this is just bonus baseball," Leatherman said. "I'm just trying to enjoy my time because it could be my last. I don't plan to do anything different. I'm just going to look around and see these guys smile.

"It could be my last, but it could be the start of something really special."

Junior right-hander Cameron Brown, who is 10-0 with a 2.72 ERA, is expected to take the bump for the second game. Patty will pitch the third game, if it's necessary. However, if Leatherman or Brown struggle early, expect to see Patty in a long relief situation.

As for that Cena action figure, Brown said it showed up in the locker room just a few days before the winning streak began on April 26.

"He's the heart and soul of this team," Brown said. "We have to have him for the rest of the year."