CMU baseball loses in closing moments to Ball State in round one of MAC Tournament
In the closing moments of its first postseason game, pressure mounted as Central Michigan baseball’s hopes of advancing to the winners' bracket of the Mid-American Conference Tournament came down to the bottom of its lineup.
In the end, it couldn’t quite get it done, losing to three-seeded Ball State, 7-6. CMU junior catcher Nick Dardas struck out swinging with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, courtesy of Ball State junior reliever Ryan Brown - who made his first appearance in over a month due to injury.
Following the loss at Olga Mural Field of host Kent State, who won its first-round matchup against Western Michigan - CMU will face the Broncos at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. The loser faces elimination, while the winner will play the loser of the Ball State and Kent State matchup.
Down by two, CMU's Christian Mitchelle and Jacob Donahue advanced to second and third base after singling to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning just before graduate outfielder Garrett Navarra hit a dribbler to Brown, who threw out Navarra at first. Junior infielder Danny Wuestenfeld followed by going down on strikes, but down to its final out, redshirt sophomore designated hitter Robby Morgan IV reached base safely on a chopper to third base, scoring Donahue.
Following Morgan was Dardas who had gone 1-for-2 with two walks. Dardas went down on strikes leaving Morgan and Mitchelle stranded.
While they didn’t finish off the game as they had hoped, the Chippewas did not quite get off to the start they hoped for either. Facing off against the top of the Cardinals’ lineup, CMU sophomore starting pitcher Adam Mrakistch found himself and the Chippewas down in a 3-0 hole following a first inning three-run home run from Ball State shortstop Adam Tellier.
After the early blemish, Mrakistch settled in for the next couple innings, keeping his pitch count rather low despite 25 first-inning pitches.
However, after a spotless second and third inning, Ball State’s lineup again got the best of Mrakitsch. Two singles followed by an RBI double from junior outfielder Decker Scheffler gave the Cardinals two fourth inning runs, pushing their lead to 5-2.
The Chippewas answered Ball State’s two scores with a pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth. Dardas and junior outfielder Jake Brill kicked off the frame each with a base knock, later followed by an RBI single to left field from Donahue, plating both Dardas and Brill to bring CMU within one.
Mrakitsch’s surrendering of four earned runs matched Ball State starting pitcher Ty Johnson. The junior right-handed pitcher lasted four innings, giving up eight hits as well as an unearned run. Mrakitsch allowed one less hit in five and a third innings of work.
Johnson was ultimately chased by Navarra, who wrapped a fly ball just around the right field foul pole for a solo home run. Johnson was replaced by junior reliever Sam Klein, who earned the win for his efforts, going four and a third innings and giving up one run on three hits.
Leading the way statistically for the Chippewas was Donahue who tied for a team high three hits (along with Mitchelle) while leading CMU in RBIs and runs with two each.
Ely Stuart took the spot of redshirt freshman Luke Sefcik, who has not been in the lineup since May 14 due to injury. Since then, Stuart has been starting at third base, while Mitchelle has shifted to Sefcik’s regular position of second base.
Facing elimination, CMU will have to win out for a chance to win the MAC Championship for the second consecutive year.