College notes: Cancer-free, WMU’s Filkins hits first HR

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It had been a long, long time since Beau Filkins hit a home run in a game. But, as any baseball player will tell you, you always remember that feeling.

The feeling Filkins didn’t recognize, however was the sharp pain in his chest — “like someone was stabbing me with a knife” — as he was lying in bed in Kalamazoo in September 2015. Earlier that day, he had taken a ground ball off his chest in practice, and it hurt more than it should've. That night, he decided to sleep through the discomfort, but woke up with the pain still there.

So, that next day, he went to his trainers on the Western Michigan baseball staff, who also weren’t suspecting much wrong, not with a fit college baseball player. They prescribed some Ibuprofen.

Unable to even shag flyballs, he left practice early. And that night, the pain was back — and it was worse.

Filkins said enough was enough, and he headed to the ER, where X-rays discovered a mass. Within a week, he got the official word: He had cancer.

“It was a pretty scary moment,” he said over the phone this week. “You don’t know what to feel.”

Filkins, an outfielder/infielder from suburban Chicago, had played for the Broncos as a freshman and a sophomore, but his junior season, not yet begun, was over — just days before the team was to have its first scrimmage.

While staying in school — he only had to drop one class, he says — Filkins underwent four rounds of grueling chemotherapy, and then surgery in January 2016 to remove the mass from his chest. Within a week, he got the official word — and it was much better this time: He was cancer-free.

All during the process, his parents, both retired, and teammates and coaches were there with him, every step of the way.

“They were incredible,” said Filkins, whose father, Randy, played minor-league ball for the Yankees in the 1980s.

He returned to the diamond Feb. 17, against Kennesaw State, and doubled. That sure felt good.

Not as good, though, as his at-bat Saturday, against Southeast Missouri State.

Stepping to the plate in the fifth inning, Filkins, a 6-foot, 195-pound right-handed hitter, launched a long home run to left field. It was the first home run of his college career; in fact, it was his first since sectionals as a senior in high school.

Still, he knew it was gone. You always remember that feeling.

“It felt awesome,” said Filkins, batting .234 with five RBIs in 10 games during his redshirt junior season. “After going through all that and finally getting to to play after a lot of time off, it feels great to back out there again.”

Filkins and the Broncos (19-22) will play at 6:35 Tuesday night at Comerica Park, against Michigan State (24-19). Western then plays at Oakland (12-33) on Wednesday.

Central express

Central Michigan softball opened its season at a tournament in College State, Texas, with a mercy loss to Ohio State. Two days later, it lost to Ohio State, but this time in extra innings.

And right then, Chippewas coach Margo Jonker knew she might have a special team on her hands.

“At that time, Ohio State’s coach (Kelly Kovach Schoenly), who I’ve known for a long time, said to me, ‘Your team has improved tremendously in just three days. It’ll be fun to see how they improve by the end of the year,’” Jonker said. “This team has been great all year.”

And on Sunday in Ypsilanti, there they were, giving Jonker, the legendary coach, a Gatorade bath after Central Michigan swept the doubleheader and clinched its first Mid-American Conference regular-season championship since 2004.

“Which is a long time,” Jonker said, with a chuckle.

Behind senior pitcher Rachael Knapp — who’s 21-8 with a 1.39 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 2,016 innings — the Chippewas finished 18-5 in conference play, and are 36-10 on the season. The 36 wins are their most since 2002, their 18 MAC wins their most since 2004.

Knapp doesn’t get the publicity of Michigan’s Megan Betsa, but they’re the top pitchers in the state, whichever order you want to put them.

The two squared off March 28, with the Wolverines edging the Chippewas, 2-0. Betsa and Knapp went the distance, allowing six total hits.

“She’s just raised it to another level this year,” said Jonker of Knapp, “with her maturity and confidence in the circle.”

Central Michigan gets the No. 1 seed in the MAC tournament, which starts Wednesday afternoon in Akron, Ohio. The Chippewas open against their rival, No. 8-seeded Western Michigan (23-27).

Jonker will be seeking her 14th trip to the NCAA Tournament since taking the job in 1980.

Tournament bound

Wayne State softball’s streak of five consecutive Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference softball tournament championships ended this weekend, in a rain-shortened tournament that turned the event into single-elimination.

But the Warriors (37-13) still extended their NCAA Tournament streak to six years, when the pairings were announced Monday.

Wayne State opens play in St. Louis as the No. 2 seed in that Midwest Regional.

Meanwhile, Grand Valley State (32-16), the regular-season GLIAC champion, and Saginaw Valley State (35-14), the tournament champion, are in a Midwest Region in Evansville, Ind., with Saginaw Valley the No. 2 seed and Grand Valley the No. 4.

Play begins Thursday, with Wayne State opening against Truman, Saginaw Valley against UIndy and Grand Valley against Southern Indiana.