MOUNT PLEASANT - The 2011 season was another championship year for the Central Michigan baseball program.
The Chippewas closed the regular season by winning eight of their final 11 Mid-American Conference games, including taking two out of three at Eastern Michigan on the final weekend of the season, to claim their second straight MAC West Division title. It was CMU's sixth division title in 14 seasons of divisional play in the MAC.
CMU finished 31-27 overall, 17-9 in the MAC, the sixth 30-win season in head coach Steve Jaksa's nine-year tenure and the sixth time he has led the team to 17 or more MAC victories.
The Chippewas struggled early, falling to a season-high seven games under .500 after playing a challenging early season schedule and having their first MAC series of the season moved to Miami due to inclement weather in Mount Pleasant. After a 3-2 loss at Notre Dame on March 29 dropped CMU to 9-16 overall, the Chippewas reeled off wins in eight of their next nine games to even their record at 17-17 on April 15. Included in the winning streak was a 3-1 win at Michigan State and a 9-4 win at home over Michigan.
CMU closed out cross-divisional play with a pair of one-run victories at home over eventual MAC champion Kent State. CMU's series win was highlighted by Trent Howard's performance on the mound in the series opener. Despite taking a no-decision, Howard struck out the first nine Kent State hitters to open the game and limited the Golden Flashes to one earned run on four hits over seven innings. He finished with 11 strikeouts and just one walk.
Following the Kent State series, the Chippewas stepped out of conference play for a midweek matchup with Michigan State, which CMU hosted at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, on April 20. It was the first college baseball game played at the 10-year old facility. All the scoring came in the first inning as Michigan State plated three runs, including two unearned, to defeat the Chippewas, 3-1.
CMU finished the season with a 4-2 record against Big Ten Conference opponents, claiming wins over Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois.
CMU opened MAC West Division play the following weekend, taking two of three games at Ball State before sweeping Northern Illinois at home. The Chippewas also took the final two games of a home series with Toledo to claim a one-game lead in the West Division with two weekends remaining.
The Chippewas' three-game set at Western Michigan May 13-15 was cut to two games by rain. The teams' split the two matchups, with junior right-hander Zach Cooper turning in a historic pitching performance in CMU's 3-0 win in game two. Cooper held the Broncos to one hit in a complete-game shutout, the Chippewas' first one-hitter since 2002 and first nine-inning one-hitter since 2000. Western Michigan's lone hit was a leadoff single in the fifth inning.
CMU entered the season's final weekend needing to win two of three at Eastern Michigan to claim the West Division title. The host Eagles managed an 11-10, 14-inning win in the series opener, a game that took nearly five hours to play, but CMU rebounded with a 14-2 win in game two. In the finale, the Chippewas rode the right arm of Jake Sabol to a 5-2 division title clinching victory. Sabol went the distance, striking out seven and walking none while allowing just one earned run on six hits.
As the West Division champion, CMU entered the MAC Tournament in Chillicothe, Ohio as the No. 2 seed. The Chippewas dropped their opener, 9-7, to Western Michigan, then scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning to rally past Toledo, 9-8. Tyler Hall, who hit for the cycle in the contest, tripled with the bases loaded to tie the score, then scored the winning run on Brendan Emmett's sacrifice fly.
Another ninth inning rally less than 24 hours later avenged CMU's opening round loss, as the Chippewas scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to eliminate Western Michigan, 13-12. William Arnold's one-out, bases-loaded single drove in Matt Faiman with the winning run. The Chippewas' magic ran out later that night, though, as Miami ended CMU's season with a 5-2 decision.
Hall and Nate Theunissen were named to the All-MAC Tournament team. Hall batted .438 (7-for 16) with a double, triple and home run, drew four walks, stole a pair of bases, scored three runs and drove in five runs while posting an on-base percentage of .571 in the tournament. Theunissen hit a team-leading .500 (8-for-16) with a team-high 1.313 slugging percentage in the tournament. Four of his eight hits were home runs, and he drove in a team-leading seven runs while scoring a team-high tying five runs in the tournament.
Howard and Cooper joined Jordan Dean on the All-MAC second team. Howard was named to the all-conference second team for the third time, while Dean and Cooper both earned All-MAC recognition for the first time in their careers.
Howard and Cooper also represented CMU on the Academic All-MAC squad.
Hall was named the team's MVP at the postseason awards banquet. He led the Chippewas in average (.367), hits (84), runs (46), on-base percentage (.470) and slugging percentage (.559) and tied for the team lead in walks (34) and extra-base hits (27), including a school-record 11 triples.
The season concluded with each of the three members of CMU's weekend pitching rotation having their names called at the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. Howard was drafted in the seventh round by the Baltimore Orioles, Sabol in the 36th round by the Detroit Tigers and Cooper in the 46th round by the Florida Marlins.