CHILLICOTHE, Ohio - Central Michigan is making a habit of winning close games at the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
The Chippewas worked their late inning magic for another dramatic victory Friday afternoon, pushing across a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat Western Michigan, 13-12, in an elimination game for both teams.
The No. 2 seed Chippewas (31-26) avenged an opening round loss to the No. 7 seed Broncos (26-31) and advance to meet No. 3 Miami Friday night.
CMU has now scored the winning run in the ninth inning of each of its last three MAC Tournament victories dating back to last season. It seemed unlikely that ninth inning heroics would be necessary after CMU put eight runs on the board in the second inning, including back-to-back-to-back home runs with two outs that staked the Chippewas to an early 10-3 lead. Western Michigan plated four runs in the top of the third and four more in the seventh to tie the score at 11, then took the lead in the eighth when Grant Simotes singled home Jimmy Martinez.
Sam Russell, who led off the second inning with a homer and hit the third of CMU's three straight round-trippers later in the inning, beat out a slow roller to short for an infield single to open the ninth. Matt Faiman drew a four-pitch walk, and Robbie Harman singled to load the bases with nobody out. A wild pitch scored Russell from third, and Tyler Hall drew a walk to again load the bases. After a strikeout, William Arnold, who was 0-for-4 in the game prior to his last at-bat, drove a 3-2 pitch through the right side of the infield that brought home Faiman with the game-winning run.
Harvey Martin (3-3) worked the final three innings to earn the win in relief for CMU. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits. Eric Heckaman (2-4) took the loss for Western Michigan.
CMU appeared in control after its eight-run second inning, its largest run total in any single inning in 2011. Russell led off the frame with a towering home run deep into the trees beyond the left field wall. Harman later singled and scored on an error, but the Chippewas' offense caught fire with two outs. After Arnold struck out swinging for the inning's second out, Tom Howard doubled home Hall and Brendan Emmett, Jordan Dean drilled an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left, and Nate Theunissen homered to right to chase WMU starter Mike Moyer. Russell greeted reliever David Brennan with his second homer of the inning to cap the eight-run frame and extend CMU's lead to 10-3.
After the second inning, however, CMU scratched out just one run on two hits until its two-run ninth inning.
Russell finished 3-for-5 and scored three times for CMU, while Dean was 3-for-4 with a walk and three runs batted in. Harman also was 3-for-4 and scored twice.
Each of CMU's games in the MAC Tournament can be heard live on WMHW-FM 91.5 and online at CMUChippewas.com.