Chippewas rally to knock off Ball State in MAC tournament championship, clinch third straight NCAA appearance
Garrett Navarra named tournament's most valuable player
Central Michigan faced its fair share of deficits during its run in the Mid-American Conference tournament.
After Ball State jumped to a 5-1 advantage after just an inning of play, the Chippewas once again faced the pressure of playing from behind.
Just as they have so many times throughout the season, though, CMU rose up and embraced the challenge. With resilient pitching and timely hitting, it once again got the job done on Sunday. This time, the payoff was sweet.
With its rally, CMU claimed an 11-7 win over tournament host Ball State to claim the MAC tournament crown and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. It will be the third straight appearance in the NCAA's for the program under head coach Jordan Bischel.
Two-way junior Garrett Navarra was named the tournament's most valuable player and gave the Chippewas a 7-6 lead in the seventh inning with a three-run home run. After Ball State tied the game in its ensuing at-bat, sophomore Jakob Marsee doubled to score Mario Camilletti and give CMU the upper hand.
The Chippewas would never relinquish the lead, as Adam Mrakitsch and Jordan Patty slammed the door with two scoreless frames. Camilletti banked a two-run shot off the scoreboard in the top of the ninth inning to give CMU insurance.
Playing a fifth game in five days, Bischel turned to reliever Jake Jones to start the game as a result of a depleted staff of starters. Jones would last just 1/3 innings, as he was pulled after allowing four runs.
Andrew Taylor, who threw 105 pitches in a start Wednesday, entered from the bullpen and allowed a fifth run before settling in. The one run would be all he allowed, cruising through a total of 4 2/3 relief innings.
While Taylor was keeping Ball State's bats quiet, the offense inched back into the game. Adam Proctor hit an RBI single in the top of the second to cut into it, but the deficit rose back to five when Ball State scored on a groundout.
Down 6-2, the Chippewas turned to the long ball to reclaim the lead. Robby Morgan hit a two-run jack to make it 6-4 in the fifth, and Navarra's tournament heroics continued with his go-ahead long ball in the seventh.
Navarra finished the tournament with two home runs over the five-day span. He finished Sunday's game with four hits, following up a stellar performance on the mound Saturday in which he earned the win by striking out nine and allowing one run.
Morgan, who also sent two out of the park in the tournament, was one of three other Chippewas to be named to the all-tournament team. Marsee and Mrakitsch also earned all-tournament honors.
Ball State tied the game at 7-all in the bottom of the seventh against reliever Ryan Palmblad. Mrakitsch (W, 6-1), who threw 63 pitches over 5 1/3 innings Saturday, entered from the bullpen and induced a flyout to strand Cardinal runners at second and third.
Marsee doubled to score Camilletti and give CMU the lead for good in the seventh, then scored on Danny Wuestenfeld's two-bagger. After Mrakitsch pitched a scoreless eighth, Camilletti homered and Patty entered for the ninth.
The Midland senior, who spurned undrafted free agent deals from the professional ranks for another crack at a MAC title, recorded the final three outs. It was Morgan who made the final play, reaching up at the warning track to make a catch in center field.
CMU will learn of its destination in the NCAA tournament during the selection show, which is scheduled for Noon Monday on ESPN2. The selection show can also be streamed on ESPN+.