'Our brand of baseball': CMU shows resolve in elimination of Michigan at NCAA Tournament
Central Michigan found a way to rebound, Michigan didn’t.
The Chippewas remain alive in the NCAA baseball tournament after an 8-2 victory over Michigan at Frank Eck Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, on Saturday afternoon in an elimination game. CMU, winner of the last two MAC championships, will play the loser of the Notre Dame-UConn game at noon Sunday. The Chippewas fell, 10-0, in the tournament opener to Notre Dame on Friday and are now 41-17.
"Our guys were really motivated to come out and just show that we’re really a quality program that can compete with anybody, obviously, Michigan, national runner-up a couple years ago," CMU coach Jordan Bischel said. "So I’m proud of the guys for that.
"There was no sense of panic, no sense of being intimidated or being worried about any of that. They just wanted to play good baseball. It’s exciting for our program that a pretty good chunk of the country got to see it on national television. It’s fun for people to see our brand of baseball."
Michigan, the national runner-up in 2019, the last time the NCAA Tournament was held, finishes the season 27-17. The Wolverines lost 6-1 to UConn in their first game of the regional and lost five of their last six to end the season. Cam Weston started and went 4.2 innings, giving up eight hits and three runs. They used five pitchers against CMU.
"The ebbs and flows of any season ... which is why you want to get hot at the end," Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich said. "That was why two years ago was so magical, but this was the other end of the spectrum where we got cold at the end. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.
"This 24-hour period we were here I thought we would come out and have a better offensive showing, but we didn’t. We really don’t have any excuses. We didn’t hit well enough to be a factor in this regional."
Jordan Patty pitched well for the Chippewas, going 7.2 innings, giving up eight hits and one run while striking out six. He got help offensively from two home runs and two runs scored off miscues by two Michigan pitchers. CMU had 15 home runs entering this game.
Michigan started fast, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on a home run by Tito Flores, his seventh of the year.
“Ninety degrees with the wind blowing out is not ideal for our offensive style," Bischel said. "Taking nothing away from Flores, but hits kind of just a routine fly ball that blows out of the park, and you sit there and think, ‘Oh, my, is this going to be how it’s going to be today?’ That was a little worrisome. Just proud of the guys for not worrying about what they couldn’t control."
Central Michigan tied it when Zach Gilles, who reached on a walk, scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first.
The Chippewas took a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning when Garrett Navarra homered off Weston. Zach Heeke, who had reached on a single, scored. Weston was replaced by Logan Wood in the fifth after throwing 4 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and three runs. He struck out two. Wood took over with two out and runners on first and third.
Things got worse for the Wolverines, as CMU matched its fourth-inning production with another two runs, off pitching miscues by different pitchers. A balk was called on Wood, and Griffin Lockwood-Powell scored. After consecutive walks to load the bases, Joe Pace entered the game in relief. Pace, on a 2-2 count, hit Aidan Shepardson, scoring Heeke for a 5-1 lead.
"Most of their scoring today was with two out," Bakich said. "Unfortunately, whether it’s a balk or hit by pitch or they just extend the inning or start a rally with two outs, people have heard me talk about the value of two-out RBIs and how those can be such momentum swingers and can really impact a team. We didn’t have any two-out RBI the last two games."
CMU added two runs in the sixth inning, for a 7-1 lead, when Lockwood-Powell hit a two-run home run to center field off Pace. Jacob Denner, Michigan’s fourth pitcher of the game, came in and got the final out.
The Wolverines seemed to get a spark in the top of the seventh when they loaded the bases — Christian Bullock reached on a fielder’s choice, but Riley Bertram was safe at second after a fielding error. But even with the bases loaded, Michigan couldn’t build on the momentum. Flores hit into a double play to end the inning. At that point, the Wolverines had left seven runners on base.
“That was huge," Bakich said. "Not scoring there is almost a double-negative because you know you needed to chip away at the deficit and then it just makes that deficit feel even more."
Michigan added a run in the top of the ninth on a solo home run by Jimmy Obertop, the team leader with 11.
“We worked so hard this year, it’s a bummer the way it ended," Obertop said. "Our bats just went cold at the wrong time. Obviously, you can’t plan for that. We just worked so hard and just did not go the way we wanted."
SOUTH BEND REGIONAL
At Frank Eck Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
►Game 1: No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 4 Central Michigan 0
►Game 2: No. 2 UConn 6, No. 3 Michigan 1
►Game 3: Central Michigan 8, Michigan 2
►Game 4: Notre Dame 26, Connecticut 3
►Game 5: Central Michigan (41-17) vs. Connecticut (34-18), noon
►Game 6: Notre Dame (32-11) vs. Game 5 winner, 6
Monday (if necessary)
►Game 7: 1