Preview: Baseball opens NCAA Tournament against Miami (Florida)
The Central Michigan baseball team will make its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament bracket since 1995 when it squares off against Miami (Florida).
CMU (46-12) is the third seed in the Starkville Regional after earning the automatic qualifier by winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The team is set to play No. 2 seed Miami (Florida) after earning an at-large bid to the tournament with a 39-18 record.
Head coach Jordan Bischel said he and the team are excited to be competing and thankful to the host, Mississippi State.
"(We're) just really excited to be here," Bischel said. "We can't thank Mississippi State enough for everything we have seen since we have been here. It has been first class, and we are really giving our guys a great experience."
The Hurricanes will have to navigate strong starting pitching from the Chippewas if the Atlantic Coast Conference power is going to advance.
Senior right-hander Pat Leatherman is expected to start for CMU, making his 62nd career start. He has been dominant this season with a 10-1 record and a 2.56 ERA. He has struck out a team-high 83 batters.
As with most pitchers, Leatherman does find himself in a jam with base runners in scoring position. But he seemingly always finds a way to cut down those runners before they reach the plate. He has allowed just 28 runs on 65 hits and 25 walks dispatched this season, which contributes to his low ERA.
Offensively, the Chippewas score runs in bunches by playing small ball and working their way to hit the long ball. Sophomore catcher Griffin Lockwood-Powell leads the team in home runs with 11, he also has 76 hits and a batting average of .353.
There are two key players to watch for on the Chippewa side and both are seniors. Second baseman Jason Sullivan is a steady player and can find a way to get on base when his team needs it the most. He has a .411 on-base percentage and has scored 49 runs this season.
The other key is the status of right fielder Jacob Crum. He is currently day-to-day after taking a pitch off the face in the MAC Tournament opener against Ohio. If he is able to play, he offers a great balance of offensive prowess and defensive ability. He has six assists from right field with a majority of them throwing out runners at the plate.
On the Miami side of the tilt, coach Gino DiMare was undecided on his starting pitcher as of Thursday, so who will earn the start remains a mystery for the Chippewas. DiMare is between Evan McKendry (6-2, 4.69), Chris McMahon (3-2, 3.70) and Brian Van Belle (9-2, 3.30).
The Hurricane offense hits .289 as a team and has hit 75 home runs this season. For comparison, CMU hits at .302 with just 29 home runs. The Chippewas rank 16th in the country with team batting average while Miami ranks 14th in the home run category.
CMU and Miami square off at 8 p.m. Friday, May 31 at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Mississippi. The game can be viewed on ESPN3. The winner will face the Mississippi State-Southern victor a 7 p.m. on June 1 while the losers will play an elimination game at 1 p.m. to open the day of play.