CMU baseball sweeps Saturday slate to set up winner-take-all showdown Sunday

A CMU player wears a Rainicorn head, one of the many dugout props that the team has on Friday, April 8, at Thuenissen Stadium.

As it has so many times throughout the 2022 season, Central Michigan baseball swept a Saturday two-game slate. 

This time around, though, a whole lot more was at stake. 

The Chippewas took two games at the Mid-American Conference tournament, including a 12-3 triumph over Ball State, to set up a championship matchup with the Cardinals at Noon Sunday. 

The winner of the game will claim the MAC tournament crown and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

CMU began Saturday with a come-from-behind 10-7 victory over Toledo. Trailing the Rockets 6-1, the third time this season they've faced that exact deficit against this specific opponent, the Chippewas battled back and took the lead for good on Danny Wuestenfeld's three-run home run in the sixth inning. 

Adam Mrakitsch (W, 5-1) pitched the final 5 1/3 innings in relief of starter Logan Buczkowski. The Howell freshman struck out five and walked none while scattering a run three hits. 

With Toledo leading by five, CMU inched back with RBI doubles from Aidan Shepardson and Garrett Navarra. Robby Morgan's single made it 6-5 in the fifth before Wuestenfeld secured the lead with a moonshot in the following inning. 

In the nightcap, the Chippewas faced a must-win game against a Ball State team that had taken all five meetings throughout the season. The most recent matchup was claimed by the Cardinals, 9-7, despite a furious ninth-inning rally. 

Navarra took the ball on the mound and dominated a notorious Ball State lineup that has given Chippewa pitchers trouble. Over 6 innings, Navarra (W, 10-2) allowed one run while striking out nine. Ryan Palmblad earned the save. 

Though CMU notched just six hits, it mustered 12 runs thanks to the benefit of nine walks and Ball State's six errors defensively. Nick Dardas provided the exclamation point, launching the second home run of his career in the fifth inning. 

That fifth inning proved beneficial, as CMU tacked on three runs to take a 7-1 lead. Thanks to the strong pitching, the outcome was in little doubt. 

With the two wins, coach Jordan Bischel's squad has put the pressure back on the host Cardinals. The Chippewas will play their fifth game in five days Sunday, leaving the pitching depth in uncertain territory. Andrew Taylor, the team's ace, tossed 105 pitches over five innings in the tournament opener.

On three days rest, it remains to be seen if the Caledonia native will be available. Each of the core members of the Chippewa pitching rotation have thrown significant pitches over the weekend, and Sunday's starter is to be announced.