WMU to pitch Piechota on Friday, Akin on Saturday

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

As tempting as it would be, in good conscience, Billy Gernon couldn’t do it.

Western Michigan’s baseball coach, who has the team in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989, has decided against using his ace lefty — and the state’s top prospect for next week’s MLB draft — in the regional opener at Louisville on Friday night.

Keegan Akin, the lefty who was MVP of the Mid-American Conference tournament after winning twice, will pitch Saturday’s game, against either Ohio State or Wright State.

Akin pitched the championship game of the MAC tournament Sunday on three days’ rest, and while Akin told The News he’d be ready for No. 7 Louisville — the same ranking for Louisville as when Akin made his first career start as a freshman against the Cardinals in an upset WMU win — Gernon said no.

“I can’t push it and take a chance on injuring him,” Gernon said Thursday.

Akin threw 112 pitches in the opening win against Ball State in the MAC tournament, then 87 in the clincher, coming out with WMU ahead, 12-0.

Akin (7-3, 1.46 ERA) is projected to be taken in the first three rounds of the MLB draft, possibly even in the first two, with his 94-mph fastball, solid breaking ball and change-up.

Pitching Friday against Louisville will be sophomore lefty Jacob Piechota (10-3, 3.36 ERA), who had a save and a victory in the MAC tournament — the win an absolutely brilliant performance against rival Central Michigan, in which he allowed one hit in six innings.

Senior right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, who has slipped down Louisville’s pecking order this season and didn’t pitch in the ACC tournament, will start for the Cardinals against the Broncos. He is 8-3 with a 4.11 ERA.

Louisville (47-12) and Western Michigan (22-32) play at 6 p.m., following the 2 p.m. game between Ohio State (43-18-1) and Wright State (44-15).

It’s a double-elimination format.