'Surreal': CMU blanks Ball State for first MAC tournament title since 1995
Avon, Ohio — It’s been 24 years, but the drought is finally over.
With the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the No. 1 seed Central Michigan baseball team earned a 6-0 victory over No. 2 Ball State Saturday at Sprenger Stadium.
“It’s pretty surreal, to be honest,” first-year CMU coach Jordan Bischel said. “To win the regular season and the postseason, it establishes you have the best team."
Sophomore right-hander Jordan Patty was stellar in the most important start of his career — a May 18 victory that rewarded Central Michigan the MAC regular-season title.
Fast forward one week, Patty did it again.
And this time the stage was even bigger.
Patty (4-2) tossed eight innings of scoreless baseball to pace the Chippewas (45-12) to their first MAC Tournament crown and NCAA Tournament berth since 1995. CMU also set a program record with 18 straight wins, dating back to April 26.
“We’re just living it up, having the time of our lives,” Patty said. “Being with all these guys is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’m so glad we can all do it together.”
For reference, CMU catcher Blake Cleveland is the oldest player on the team and was born in July 1995, meaning he wasn’t even alive when the trophy was last in Mount Pleasant. Bischel was 14 years old.
“When I took this job, I knew the history of this program,” Bischel said. “I knew we would be able to compete, but you can’t predict something like this. We are top five in the country in wins. That’s pretty remarkable stuff.”
The Chippewas jumped out to a quick start on a two-run homer to center field from catcher Griffin Lockwood-Powell, his 11th of the season, off Ball State junior left-hander Mike Pachmayer in the first inning.
Lockwood-Powell was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
“It’s been a ton of fun,” he said. “The dugout has been fun, and the coaches changed the entire culture of this program. It’s just been a blast.”
Pachmayer (4-2) ended up exiting after 5.2 innings after being roughed up for four runs (three earned) on five hits and four walks. Patty, however, remained solid.
“Once I got through their lineup the first time, I knew I had something going,” Patty said. “Coach B kept calling great pitches, Griffin was giving me strikes and our defense was playing awesome. We had what it took.”
Ball State threatened in the third by putting runners on the corners with two outs, but Patty got senior second baseman William Baker to ground out. Later on in the seventh, Patty gave up a leadoff double to sophomore Nick Powell but bounced back with three straight outs to retire the side.
CMU struck again in the fourth, as a single from senior second baseman Jason Sullivan turned into a three-base hit due to an error in the outfield. Sullivan eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly from senior first baseman Evan Kratt for a 3-0 lead over the Cardinals (38-19).
Back-to-back singles from Kratt and sophomore left fielder Chase Rollin and an intentional walk to sophomore shortstop Zavier Warren set the dish for junior center fielder Zach Gilles in the sixth.
Pachmayer walked in a run with two outs and was yanked from the game for right-handed reliever Nolan Gazouski. He struck out Lockwood-Powell with the bases loaded to end the inning, but Gilles’ walk was enough to go up 4-0.
Rollin’s two-out single down the right-field line off Gazouski brought home Sullivan and Cleveland for a 6-0 lead in the seventh, and it was enough to force Ball State coach Rich Maloney to go to his bullpen once again.
Through eight innings, Patty unleashed 122 pitches. He gave up just four hits and three walks with six strikeouts. Junior right-hander Grant Frazer pitched a clean top of the ninth to secure the milestone victory for the Chippewas.
Entering the MAC Tournament, CMU earned a first-round bye but was forced to play three games in three days. Bischel’s group took down No. 6 Ohio, 18-9, on Thursday, Ball State, 8-2, on Friday and the Cardinals, once again, on Saturday to hoist the trophy.
The Chippewas, picking up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, will learn their seed and region during the 64-team bracket release at noon Monday on ESPNU.
“None of us on the team were born, so it’s huge for the program,” Lockwood-Powell said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
What: NCAA baseball tournament selection show
When: Monday, noon
Bids: Central Michigan earned the MAC’s automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.
May 31-June 3: Regionals
June 7-10: Super Regionals
June 15: College World Series begins
Evan Petzold is a freelance writer.