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Steve Jaksa isn't technically going out on top.

But he sure feels like it.

"Even though we didn't win a championship, had that hardware, but boy, did we play like champions down the stretch," the longtime Central Michigan baseball coach said. "We were banged up like I've never had a team banged up before. We had eight guys out going into the conference tournament, then lost two more during the conference tournament.

"I had one position player left in the dugout for our last game. The next one up was a pitcher.

"How they competed, how they never talked about adversity and just played, it was an emotional and beautiful thing."

Jaksa this week announced his retirement after 16 seasons as head baseball coach at Central Michigan, where he was an assistant coach before that, and a student-athlete before that.

All told, he's spent 25 years of his 62 years affiliated with the Chippewas.

This season, he celebrated his 500th career victory at Central Michigan, and he finished with a record of 507-421-2, three Mid-American Conference championships and six MAC West titles. In conference competition, he was 100 games over .500, at 257-157.

Only one other coach has won more at Central Michigan, Dean Kreiner, who won 516 from 1985-98.

The Chippewas finished this season 29-30-1, but surged late, despite the mountain of injuries. They won their last four games of the regular season, then made it all the way to the MAC tournament semifinals before falling to Miami (Ohio), 9-8.

They accomplished that run despite missing their ace pitcher, No. 3 pitcher, starting first baseman and starting catcher, and with a DH playing through a torn labrum. Then in the conference tournament, the Chippewas lost two more key players.

More college notes: Detroit Mercy's Kam Chatman stays in NBA Draft

After starting his coaching career as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio), head coach at Saginaw Nouvel High School and Northwood University, he joined CMU as an assistant coach in 1999, and took over as head coach in 2003. The Grand Blanc native played for the Chippewas from 1974-79, as a pitcher, and had a career record of 12-4 with four saves and a 2.76 ERA.

"There is a certain passion that everybody who's been there has for Central Michigan," Jaksa said. "You may not understand that passion when you first get there, but if you're willing to stay there and become a part of it and let it drip on you a little bit, there's not a finer place to raise a family. And for me, and my ability to coach, I was able to play. I had good coaches. And then, God, I was so fortunate to have the players I had. The amount of texts I've been receiving, the outpouring of love and fondness, has been tremendous. At the end of the day, my heart is full because of those guys. I really mean that."

Jaksa said he's been talking about stepping away for a while with his wife and recently made the decision. He's retiring as head coach at Central Michigan, but not necessarily retiring altogether. He said he has some ideas of what he wants to do next but hasn't made a final decision yet.

Jaksa was the elder statesman among Division I head baseball coaches in Michigan.

Central Michigan said a national search for his replacement will begin immediately.

Meanwhile, in more baseball news, Eastern Michigan is nearing a decision on its head-coach situation, and could make an official announcement next week. After Mark Van Ameyde departed to become pitching coach at Michigan State, former Detroit Tigers prospect Eric Roof spent the 2018 season as interim head coach, compiling a 22-34 record and getting the Eagles into the MAC tournament. 

Hope golfer wins Nicklaus award

Michigan's Kyle Mueller probably is the best collegiate golfer in the state. Well, at least he was. He's recently graduated.

Taking the throne might just be Hope College's Josh Gibson.

The junior from Grandville recently was named the winner of the Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year Award for Division III. He will receive the award, along with four other winners from different collegiate levels, from Nicklaus on Sunday during the final round of The Memorial in suburban Columbus, Ohio.

"It's a great honor," Gibson said. "Mr. Nicklaus is arguably the greatest golfer to ever play. He's a living legend. I'm really excited for the opportunity to meet him and talk to him a little bit."

On Saturday, Gibson competed against the four other winners — Oregon's Norman Xiong, Florida Southern's John VanDerLaan, Dalton State College's SM Lee and Midland College's Callum Bruce — in an 18-hole "shootout" with the winner receiving an invitation into the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship next month in Lexington, Ky. The five-man shootout, in which Gibson finished fifth at 5 over, was played at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, where Nicklaus first learned to play.

Gibson averaged 70.5 per round during his junior season, and finished 10th at the NCAA Championships, after winning the title as a sophomore. Gibson owns the two lowest rounds in Hope history: a 61 and a 64. 

Albion coach Jordan McArleton saw the 61 in person last fall in Jackson and said Gibson "is legit," and has the best shot of making it as a touring professional of any Division III golfer he's ever seen.

This and that

■ Peter Linn has been a swimming coach at Eastern Michigan for 30 years, and he will stay for at least a 31st, despite the recent elimination of the men's program. He had coached the men's team since 1988-89 through this past season, when the program was among four cut at the university — along with wrestling, softball and women's tennis. Linn has chosen to remain coach of the women's swimming program, which he's coached since 2004-05.

■ Central Michigan men's basketball lost a couple players to transfers: forward A.J. Bullard, who red-shirted last season as a freshman, and guard Gavin Peppers, a limited contributor last season as a graduate transfer who still has one year of eligibility remaining.

■ Tweet of the week, from Michigan golfer Nick Carlson:

 

■ The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame announced its 2018 class, which will include former Central Michigan basketball star Chris Kaman, former Michigan linebacker David Harris and current Michigan State women's golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll.

■ Michigan junior hurdler Taylor McLaughlin was named Great Lakes Region track athlete of the year, while Michigan State senior Tim Ehrhardt (decathlon, pole vault) was named field athlete of the year. Both will participate in the NCAA Championships next week.

■ Eastern Michigan women's basketball added Carlos Adamson to the coaching staff. He replaces Abi Olajuwon, the daughter of Hakeem Olajuwon, who left to join the staff at TCU.

■ Former Eastern Michigan and Detroit Lions quarterback Charlie Batch was inducted into the MAC Hall of Fame last week during the league meetings in Cleveland.

■ The rivalry football game between Western Michigan and Central Michigan will kick off at 3 p.m. Oct. 20, at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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