The Ball State Cardinals made their mark on the conference standings this weekend, sweeping Central Michigan. Hosting the MAC tournament is theirs to lose.
The Ball State and Central Michigan series has been highlighted on the calendar for a couple of weeks, and Ball State flipped the standings at the top.
It appeared that CMU was an unstoppable force on their massive win streak heading into the weekend series, but Ball State had other plans, as Cardinals pitchers held CMU hitters to a .155 batting average over the series and got the sweep. Central was able to get on base with 20 walks, but couldn’t bring them around to score at the end of the day, creating a significant advantage for the team from Muncie.
We go over the citical series in detail, and check in with the rest of the MAC baseball landscape below:
Ball State Takes the Top Spot
|Team||Conf W||Conf L||Conf W%||GB||Change|
The Central Michigan and Ball State series certainly lived up to its billing.
The two have been on a collision course for weeks, with Ball State entering the weekend 19-4 in conference play, fresh off of a mid-week loss to Western Michigan.
Central Michigan was 21-1 in conference play, with 21 straignt wins vs. MAC opponents and a 2.5 game lead for first place overall.
The stakes of the series couldn’t have been more critical. The first place team hosts the conference tournament, and the only way that Ball State could overtake CMU for first place was to sweep the four game series.
That’s exactly what they did.
Ball State made the invincible Central Michigan Chippewas mortal. With three weeks left, there are plenty of games left to overcome a 1.5 game gap. There will be scoreboard watching for both teams for the rest of the season.
Toledo maintained the second spot in the standings during their non-conference weekend. They swept their series with Austin Peay and are heating up at just the right time.
Ohio split with Miami and maintained the fourth and final spot in the conference tournament.
Eastern Michigan won three games against Bowling Green and rebounded into the fifth spot. That is huge for the Eagles. They went 1-7 in the previous two weekends and were in a major slide at the worst possible time.
Kent State, Miami and WMU are still in the mix with three weekends of baseball left. Miami plays their non-conference weekend in the upcoming weekend and has eight conference games against Akron and Ball State. That’s not an easy slate.
All of the teams have one of the top two teams remaining. So with those series being essentially even, Ohio has the clearest path. Akron and WMU are a combined 23-36. Akron can give up 15 runs or be surprisingly tough.
Makeup Games and a hectic last three weeks
With eleven teams in the MAC and one team having essentially a bye week throughout the year, the number of MAC games played won’t be even across the teams until the season is over. Add on top of that some cancellations and the standings are all over the place for each team’s number of remaining games.
It looks like there is some precedent for just canceling games that are unnecessary. In 2018 and 2019, the teams did not all have an equal number of games played, but they were all towards the bottom of the standings.
Eastern Michigan and Akron have zero games to make up. They are the only two.
Ball State has one game to make up with Western Michigan. One game could very easily decide who gets home field for the MAC tournament. Expect this game to be made up.
Central Michigan has two games to play from their MAC opener with Kent State. For the same reason as Ball State, these games should be played. They do not appear on either team’s schedule at this time.
Ohio has an entire series worth of games to fit into the last three weeks. They have two games to make up with Northern Illinois and two to make up with Bowling Green. They are currently in fourth place with a couple of teams hanging around them. These four games are very important for the Bobcats and other teams.
Toledo and Miami will get their makeup game done this week, then both teams will have no remaining makeup games.
That’s a lot of baseball to squeeze into an already full schedule. There are open dates during the week, but pitching is tricky. Tuesdays are short rest after the previous weekend, and Wednesdays create short rest coming into the next weekend.
“Of The Weeks”
Hitter of the Week: Zach Cole, Ball State, Left Field
Zach Cole was a monster in the biggest series of the season to date. He had seven hits including a triple and three home runs. He drove in nine runs, scored four and reached base at a .533 rate. His OPS for the series was an astounding 1.819.
Zach Cole has exploded this season after seeing a total of 38 at bats in his first two seasons in Muncie. Cole was hitting at a .211 clip entering 2022 and is slashing .331/.417/.637 with 124 at bats. He is an athlete in the outfield and has more triples, seven, than doubles, three. His seven triples lead the MAC.
Best Start of the Week: Tyler Schweitzer, Ball State
Tyler Schweitzer set the tone in game one for the Cardinals. He got the win and pitched seven innings, giving up one earned run, five walks and a hit by pitch. That’s probably too many walks, but over the seven innings he only gave up one hit. He started the eighth inning with 114 pitches through seven but gave up a four pitch walk to end his day. That runner came around to score.
Schweitzer leads the MAC in ERA for conference games with a 1.35 ERA and is third in opponent batting average, only giving up a .184 hit rate. When he is paired with Sam Klein coming out of the bullpen, opposing lineups are in for a short day.
Reliever of the Week: Brett Manis, Ohio
Brett Manis dominated from the bullpen during the Bobcat’s series with the RedHawks. He made two appearances, got a win, totaled 3.1 innings pitched, gave up three hits, and struck out six.
His first appearance was relatively low leverage in a 7-3 win, but he shut the last two innings down while facing the minimum. He gave up a hit in the eighth but got the next batter to hit into a double play. In the ninth Manis struck out the side.
He was a calming presence on the mound in his second appearance. David Novak just hit a three run home run to tie the game in the ninth for the RedHawks when Manis was called from the pen. He got the game to extras with a strikeout.
The Bobcats scored in the tenth, and Manis pitched himself into a bit of hot water. With one out and runners on first and second, he struck out the remaining two batters to end the game and get the win.
Conference series review
Kent State (17-22, 12-14) at Akron (13-31, 11-21)
|Starter ERA||5.30||Starter ERA||8.64|
Breakout freshman Eric Chalus starts game one against Akron and delivered six strong innings. It’s the second time this season that he has started on a Friday.
It wasn’t flashy but it was efficient. He finished with three strikeouts and got the six innings done in 87 pitches. By the time he checked out of game one the game was well in hand at 8-2.
After Kent State won the first two by a wide margin, Akron took the next two to earn the split. The Zips won a one run game three and made errors hurt in a 7-3 game with four unearned runs.
Akron’s Michael Sprockett had himself a weekend and hit two home runs in each of their wins, including a walk-off two run bomb with one out in the ninth.
A split is not what Kent State wanted, but Akron is a pesky team.
Kent State gets Ball State at home next and Akron is on the road at Ohio.
Central Michigan (28-14, 21-5) at Ball State (29-14, 23-4)
|Starter ERA||5.31||Starter ERA||4.22|
No one saw a sweep coming from the matchup between Ball State and Central Michigan, and if there was going to be a sweep, money would have been on the Chippewas.
Ball State pulled it off and moved into first place.
Game one was a classic pitcher’s duel each starting pitcher went seven innings. The only difference was one mistake by Andrew Taylor. Zach Cole for Ball State took Taylor deep for a three run home run, and it was a deficit that the CMU offense could not overcome. Tyler Schweitzer and Sam Klein took the whole game and only gave up one hit.
Zach Lane hit a walk-off home run in the eighth inning. It was a planned seven inning game as it was game one of a doubleheader. Jordan Patty came into the game as a reliever and was great until he wasn’t.
Game three saw CMU build leads and give them away. They had a 3-1 lead, 5-3 lead and a 7-6 lead. In the sixth inning, Zach Cole hit a bases loaded triple and scored during the next at bat on a wild pitch. The late four run inning gave the final score, 10-7.
Central Michigan freshman Adam Mrakitsch made his second start of the season in game four and pitched a gem. He allowed one run in six innings. The Chips rallied to tie the game at three in the top of the eighth and made an interesting call in the ninth. Zach Lane hit a leadoff double and advanced to third on a ground out. Nick Powell (.302 batting average) and Trenton Quartermaine (.316 batting average) were both intentionally walked to load the bases. That brought Hunter Dobbins to the plate. He only has 44 at bats but has a batting average of .364. Dobbins delivered the game-winning hit and the sweep.
A huge series for the MAC ends in dramatic fashion. These teams need to see each other in the MAC conference final. It would be a shame if that doesn’t happen.
Central Michigan hosts rival Western Michigan and Ball State is on the road at Kent State.
Bowling Green (13-28, 10-20) at Eastern Michigan (19-25, 13-15)
|Starter ERA||6.27||Starter ERA||3.12|
Eastern Michigan won three games in the weekend series against Bowling Green and the Eagles needed this result. They had been in a slide over the last two weekends and tumbled out of the conference tournament picture.
They haven’t made their way back in yet, but 3-1 weekends would sure do the trick.
Daniel Warkentin hit three home runs in game four, a bounce-back weekend for a solid candidate for MAC Player of the Year.
The Eagles played well in every game, limiting the Falcons to five doubles over the four games and a .256 batting average. That’s 43 points under the MAC average for week 11.
Even in their loss, both Adam Falinski pitched a complete game and struck out 11. The offense was held to three hits by Andrew Abrahamowicz. Abrahamowicz has been with the Falcons for four seasons and it’s good to see the senior having success in his final season.
Eastern Michigan needs another strong series on the road at Northern Illinois and Bowling Green goes home to play a rivalry series with Toledo.
Ohio (20-19, 12-12) at Miami (19-25, 14-17)
|Starter ERA||4.43||Starter ERA||3.48|
Ohio and Miami traded games in an even series that both teams needed, which left neither side particularly happy. Miami was probably especially bitter, as winngin the serioes would have been vital for staying alive in the tournament talks. The Bobcats are sitting at 12-12 and hold the fourth spot in the conference.
Ohio powered their way to a game one win. Edward Kutt went seven innings and gave up three earned runs, while the offense gave him six runs to work with. AJ Rausch and Michael Richardson each hit a home run and Will Sturek and Spencer Harbert each drove in runs with doubles.
Zach Maxey threw a complete game in the first game of their doubleheader and held the Bobcats to one run. In the second game of the day, Ohio jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the 5th inning. By the end of the ninth, it was 9-9. AJ Rausch hit a triple to lead off the top of the tenth and scored on a sacrifice fly for the win.
Miami hit three home runs in game four to secure the 9-7 win.
A back and forth series ends in a split. Imagine that.
Ohio plays Akron at home and Miami plays their non-conference weekend at Illinois.
Northern Illinois (9-33, 8-18) at Western Michigan (15-26, 12-15)
|Starter ERA||9.76||Starter ERA||2.78|
Western Michigan does not have the pitching to separate itself when they need to. WMU played the Huskies who have the worst winning percentage and only managed a split.
The Broncos’ Nick Crandell pitched a seven inning complete game in game one and gave up one run. Over the next three games, the Broncos allowed just under eight runs a game on average.
The bullpen was exceptionally vulnerable as the starting pitchers had a 2.78 ERA and pitched more than half of the innings in the series. WMU’s Hayden Berg has been their go to reliever, but in game two it seems like he was left out there to finish the game one way or another. He entered in the sixth inning and pitched the last six innings while giving up seven earned runs and eventually taking the loss. It’s rare to see a reliever throw 105 pitches.
The Huskies right fielder Brandon Johnson played well in the games that they won. In the two wins, he hit a homer, a triple and two doubles and drove in four runs.
WMU is playing CMU next week and needs to find a way to salvage some wins. NIU returns home to play Eastern Michigan.
Austin Peay (16-29) at Toledo (25-17, 16-11)
|Starter ERA||4.40||Starter ERA||4.40|
The week 10 Hustle Belt player of the week Jeron Williams stayed hot this weekend with eight hits and four stolen bases. Williams, as well as the rest of the Rockets, is hitting his stride at the right time.
The Rockets have some cushion in the third spot in the standings, and the team below them is 12-12 Ohio. The Bobcats split their series, so Toledo maintained their gap.
The Rockets were able to do their damage when they got into the Governor’s bullpen and kept them off the board with their own. Cal McAninch allowed one hit and one walk in four innings of work in game one to shut down Austin Peay.
Toledo heads to Bowling Green to resume their MAC calendar.