Chippewas begin NCAA Tournament run, clash with Fighting Irish

Sterling Heights junior Mario Camilletti fields a grounder against Ball State, Sunday, May 9.

The road to the College World Series starts in South Bend for four teams — including Central Michigan. 

The Chippewas (40-16) are the four seed in the regional, accompanied by Notre Dame (30-11), Connecticut (33-17) and Michigan (27-17). The regional is double elimination, meaning that each team will get at least two games. 

The first games of the regional will be played June 4, with the championship to be played June 6 or June 7, depending on who wins the first championship matchup. 

The winner of the South Bend Regional will advance to the Super Regional round and play the winner of the Starkville Regional, which features No. 7 Mississippi State, Virginia Commonwealth, Campbell and Samford. 

Here is a breakdown of each of CMU’s potential opponents. 

1. Notre Dame (No. 10 nationally) 

Record: 30-11 overall, 25-10 in Atlantic Coastal Conference 

All-Time vs CMU: 23-12-1

Head coach: Link Jarrett, second season (41-13)

Notable players: 1B Niko Kavadas (.288, 16 HR, 49 RBI), OF Ryan Cole (.312, 5 HR, 20 RBI), INF Carter Putz (.309, 3 HR, 34 RBI), SP John M Bertrand (7-2, 3.33 ERA, 57 SO), RP Tanner Kohlhepp (7-1, 2.88 ERA, 60 SO)

The story: The Fighting Irish sprinted out of the gates, winning each of their first nine weekend series as well as each of their mid-week non-conference games. One of those non-conference games was against CMU, an 8-4 Notre Dame victory in South Bend on April 13. The two teams had a second game scheduled, however the Fighting Irish canceled their return trip to Mount Pleasant. 

Notre Dame has fallen on some struggles recently, having been bounced from the ACC Tournament to the tune of a 14-1 loss to eighth-seeded Virginia. The pitching staff isn’t as deep as some of the other national contenders, but this is a lineup filled with fearsome bats. 

Bertrand and Kavadas were both First Team All-ACC. Bertrand is a left-handed grad transfer from Furman who has made his presence felt in his lone season with the Fighting Irish. In the first meeting between CMU and Notre Dame, Putz had four hits and two RBI. 

2. Connecticut

Record: 33-17, 13-4 Big East

All-Time vs CMU: 2-0

Head coach: Jim Penders, 18th season (605-414-5)

Notable players: RF Kyler Fedko (.411, 12 HR, 53 RBI), C Pat Winkel (.290, 11 HR, 42 RBI), LHP/1B Reggie Crawford (11 HR, 56 RBI, 1-1, 2.35 ERA), SP Ben Casparius (8-4, 3.07 ERA, 123 SO) RP Caleb Wurster (4-1, 1.64 ERA, 50 SO)

The story: The Huskies claimed the Big East regular season and Tournament titles, using the potent offense at their disposal. The Huskies are 33rd in the country with a .293 team batting average, the best of the four teams in the regional. 

Fedko earned Big East Player of the Year honors, and Crawford can do it all. With four every day players batting above .300 and four more above .280, this lineup will be tough to slow down. On the pitching side, Casparius ranks seventh in the country in strikeouts and Wurster has been lights out in the bullpen. 

3. Michigan

Record: 27-17, 27-17 Big Ten

All-Time vs CMU: 48-32-2

Head coach: Erik Bakich, ninth season (294-186) 

Notable Players: LF Tito Flores (.327, 6 HR, 36 RBI), SS Benjamin Sems (.321, 6 HR, 30 RBI), 1B Jimmy Obertop (.272, 10 HR, 33 RBI), SP Steven Hajjar (4-1, 2.85 ERA, 101 SO), RP Willie Weiss (4-2, 2.49, 38 SO)

The story: With the Big Ten conference electing not to play non-conference games, the Wolverines found themselves on the bubble thanks to a tough late season stretch. Despite this, Michigan is a team that made noise in the summer of 2019, finishing one game shy of winning a national title. 

Many of the stars on that 2019 team are off to the pros, but some pivotal pieces still remain, including relief pitcher Isaiah Page (0-1, 2.76 ERA) utility infielder Riley Bertram (.198, 5 2B, 9 RBI) and outfielder Christian Bullock (.193, 2 HR, 8 RBI). 

Hajjar is a lefty hurler who many think will be selected early in the upcoming draft. Cameron Weston is another solid starter, giving the Wolverines a desirable 1-2 punch. The ceiling of the Wolverines season rests with the lineup, which features fifth-year senior and Kansas transfer Sems surrounded by underclassmen bats.