CMU wins wild MAC tournament opener on Simpson's walk-off walk

Junior infielder Justin Simpson high fives his teammate after scoring a run on Saturday, May 7, at Theunissen Stadium.

Central Michigan shortstop Justin Simpson's fourth walk of the game proved to be the difference maker in a seesaw affair Wednesday afternoon. 

The senior shortstop, recently named All-Mid-American Conference first team, took four straight pitches with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, allowing Robby Morgan IV to cross home plate as a result. This gave CMU (39-16, 30-7) a 11-10 win over Toledo in a wild opener to the MAC tournament Wednesday at Ball State's First Merchants Ballpark. 

CMU entered its final at-bat trailing the Rockets 10-8, as left-handed reliever Garrett Navarra (W, 9-2) allowed back-to-back home runs in the top half to break an 8-all stalemate. However, the Chippewas scored three runs in the bottom half to take the win as six straight batters reached with one out. 

Aidan Shepardson kicked off the rally with a single, moving to second after Navarra was hit by a pitch. Morgan and Adam Proctor followed with singles, with the latter driving in a run. With the bases loaded and one out, CMU trailing by a run, the stage was set for the top of the order. 

As he's done so many times in his career, leadoff man Mario Camilletti coaxed a bases-loaded walk to tie the game at 10. Simpson took four straight to follow the act, win the game and send CMU's players piling out of the dugout. 

The two teams battled back and forth for the entirety of the three-hour, 50-minute matchup. Each team scored a run in the second inning, with Navarra providing CMU's on a solo shot to left field. 

When Toledo pounced on Chippewa starter Andrew Taylor for five runs in the top of the third, CMU answered right back in the bottom half to tie the game at 6. Taylor put forth a valiant effort despite the struggles, stretching to cover five innings with four strikeouts. 

The 6-6 tie was broken by CMU in the fifth, as Morgan and Proctor provided back-to-back solo shots. Morgan, a Groveport, Ohio native, provided a 4-for-5 day along with a stolen base in his first taste of posteason play. The redshirt freshman finished a triple short of the cycle. 

Proctor, meanwhile, drove in three runs after entering as a pinch hitter for starting catcher Drew Stengren in the second inning. 

The Chippewas had their two best innings offensively after Toledo snatched the lead, sending 11 men to the plate in the third and seven in the ninth, scoring the game-winning run with just one out. 

Toledo would score four unanswered runs against Navarra, who finished the game after entering in the sixth, before the Chippewas won the game with their three-run ninth. 

By using just two pitchers in the win, coach Jordan Bischel preserved a majority of his bullpen heading into Thursday's winner's bracket matchup against the winner of No. 1 seed Ball State and No. 4 seed Ohio. 

The Rockets, meanwhile, are in a less than ideal spot when it comes to pitching after using their two top starters, Kyle Jones and Connor Brandon, and top reliever Cal McAninch. Jones allowed six runs in 2-plus innings, McAninch went 4 2/3 frames and Brandon pitched the final 1 2/3, taking the loss.