A rapid start for CMU baseball led to a series win at NIU

Sophomore lefthanded pitcher Adam Mrakitsch pitches during a game against Bowling Green Friday, March 31 in Keilitz Field at Theunissen Stadium. Mrakitsch was the starting pitcher and faced 28 batters.

Central Michigan baseball won its weekend series over Northern Illinois in DeKalb, taking games one and two before falling in a tightly contested series finale. 

The Chippewas (17-13, 7-5) shut out the Huskies (6-24, 3-9) in the series opener followed by plating 17 runs in game two. CMU closed out its weekend with a loss in the closing moments of game three.

Game 1

The story of the game on Friday was production from the mound in the 7-0 victory for CMU. Sophomore LHP Adam Mrakitsch was given the starting nod as he delivered seven shutout innings. 

NIU collected 24 hits over the weekend, but its lineup in game one only represented two of those. In his seven innings of work, Mraktisch allowed just one hit, while punching out a season-high nine batters and allowing three walks over 103 pitches.

While Mrakitsch handled the bulk of the work for the Chippewas, the Huskies deployed more of a two-pronged attack. NIU junior pitcher Dominic Hann drew the start, going four innings and allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out two. 

Hann was relieved by sophomore Mason Ruh, who would pitch the final five innings of the contest for the Huskies. Ruh was hot-and-cold, registering eight strikeouts but also giving up five earned runs on eight hits. 

CMU’s offense was almost nonexistent for a majority of the middle innings, scoring only in the first two and last two innings. In their first opportunity at the plate, the Chippewas got the game started with a two-out RBI single courtesy of graduate student pitcher/outfielder Garrett Navarra, who was in the lineup as CMU’s right fielder to start the series.

Navarra was one of four Chippewas to turn in a multi-hit game on Friday, along with a trio of freshmen including Luke Sefcik (3), Christian Mitchelle (3), as well as DH Cole Prout (2).

In the top of the second, Mitchelle singled through the left side of the infield and swiped second base on a passed ball. Prout proceeded to send an offering to left center, doubling and bringing home Mitchelle to put thee Chippewas up 2-0. 

Between innings two and eight, CMU would only register three hits. Both offenses stagnated, as NIU didn’t collect a single hit during this stretch.

In the eighth inning junior catcher Nick Dardas was the first player from CMU to register an RBI since the top of the second, as he scored Mitchelle on a single to left field, putting the Chippewas up three. Later in the inning, junior outfielder Marquis Jackson drew a bases-loaded walk, giving him the other eighth-inning RBI as Prout crossed the plate. 

In the final frame, CMU’s lineup plated another three runs and slammed the door shut on the Huskies. Mitchelle and Dardas were responsible for two runs, while junior outfielder Jacob Donahue scored the game’s final run on a sacrifice fly, which brought in Mitchelle.

Game 2

After a dominant pitching performance in game one of CMU’s weekend series at Northern Illinois, game two was a different story as the offense exploded for 17 runs in a 17-7 victory over the Huskies.

CMU got off to a more than ideal start to the game as in the top of the first, Sefcik singled up the middle scoring two, giving the Chippewas an early 3-0 lead.

But after giving up two runs in the first and second inning to allow Northern Illinois to cut the score to 3-2, CMU exploded in the third inning scoring five runs and then in the sixth scoring six more.

Navarra started the run parade as he doubled to the right center field gap scoring Sefcik, while advancing Mitchelle to third who would score in the next at bat to boost the lead to 5-2.

The inning would continue as CMU took advantage of wild pitching by the Huskies as it drew three walks, a hit by pitch and a wild pitch in order to score the next three runs in the inning.

In the fourth CMU stayed patient at the plate drawing five more walks as the Chippewas would register four more runs all via walk or hit by pitch. Eventually Sefcik singled in the inning scoring two to give CMU a 14-3 lead.

CMU scored three more runs in the game coming in the fifth, sixth and ninth, with the biggest being a Mitchelle home run in the fifth extending the lead to 15-3.

Despite the large deficit, the Huskies wouldn’t stop fighting as they scored four in their half of the sixth on a flurry of singles and walks, with two coming off of a Collin Summerhill single up the middle making the score 16-7.

Junior transfer, right-handed pitcher Keegan Batka got the start for the Chippewas as he threw four innings, giving up seven hits, two walks, two earned runs, while striking out five.

Graduate student left-handed pitcher Ryan Culley added 3 1/3 innings of relief allowing only one hit, two walks, and struck out four. Freshman Nate Ross, junior Ben Vitas, and senior Shane Ryan also entered in relief.

CMU was led offensively by Sefcik who had five hits in the game, while he also led the team in RBI’s and runs scored.

Game 3

The series finale offered more excitement than its predecessors, with neither team holding more than a three-run advantage at any point throughout the game en route to a 5-6 loss for the Chippewas.

The contest could have featured a much higher run-scoring game than it did, as both teams left a plethora of base runners stranded throughout the contest. CMU scored five runs on as many hits, but also drew 10 walks.

The top source of free passes allowed was by NIU senior starting pitcher Brandon McPherson, who walked five in 2 1/3 innings. He only allowed two hits, but still surrendered three earned runs before he was pulled. 

Sefcik added to his productive weekend, as he produced near-identical RBI’s in the first and third inning. Both occurred on sacrifice flies to center field and both scored Jackson.

The Huskies entered the scoring column in the fourth inning as junior infielder Andre Demetral hit a grounder to shortstop, resulting in an RBI, scoring junior infielder Eric Erato. 

CMU starting pitcher Navarra allowed six hits on the day, while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings. At the plate, he went 0-for-3 with a walk drawn.

In the sixth inning, Navarra was pulled in favor of graduate student left-handed pitcher Ryan Palmblad. Through 2 2/3 innings, Palmblad gave up three runs - two of them earned - on four hits and four strikeouts. Palmblad allowed the only two walks drawn by NIU.

Earlier in the sixth, Prout gave the Chippewas a boost with a solo home run to right field - the first of his career at CMU - answering the Huskies’ first run scored in the fourth.

In the same frame in which Navarra was pulled, NIU once again responded to the Chippewas’ offense by scoring two. After inducing a groundout, Navarra gave up a double and a single on consecutive at-bats before giving a free-pass via hit by pitch. 

With the bases loaded, NIU sophomore catcher Kaden Kosobucki collected an RBI on a sacrifice fly to center. The following at-bat saw senior outfielder Tyler Thierry bunted for a single to score another run. Navarra was then pulled and Palmblad finished out the inning with a fielder’s choice ground ball.

CMU scored what would be its final run of the game in the top of the seventh via an RBI from red-shirt sophomore Robby Morgan IV on an error by the shortstop, resulting in a run scored from Donahue. The Chippewas entered the eighth inning with a 5-3 lead.

Palmblad nearly left the eighth inning unscathed, but a fielding error with no outs prolonged the inning. After allowing a hit, a walk and punching two out, Palmblad walked in a run giving the Huskies a deficit of just one.

With CMU’s offense failing to plate a run in the top of the ninth, Palmblad was given the opportunity to close the door in the final frame. However, after a pair of back-to-back singles, a following sacrifice bunt advanced the runners and in the next at bat, junior infielder Aaron Harper singled through the right side of the infield, bringing home both the tying and the go-ahead run.

Looking ahead for the Chippewas, they return home for a midweek duel with Hillsdale College on Tuesday, starting at 3 p.m.