YPSILANTI, Mich. - The race for the Mid-American Conference West Division title will come down to the regular season's final day.
Visiting Central Michigan scored seven runs in the seventh inning and posted a 14-2 win over Eastern Michigan Friday afternoon, setting up a de facto division championship game Saturday afternoon at EMU's Oestrike Stadium. The winner of the series finale will claim the outright West Division title and the No. 2 seed in next week's MAC Tournament. First pitch is set for 1 p.m., and the game can be heard live on 91.5 WMHW-FM and online at CMUChippewas.com.
Eastern Michigan (34-19 overall, 16-10 MAC) could have clinched the division with a win Friday, but the Chippewas (28-25, 16-9 MAC) broke open a pitchers' duel with three runs in the sixth inning and seven more in the seventh. CMU posted its second highest run total of the season and highest against a conference opponent in 2011.
Both teams dented the scoreboard early. CMU's Tyler Hall doubled on the game's second pitch and scored on Tom Howard's two-out single to give the Chippewas an early 1-0 lead. Zach Cooper retired the first two EMU hitters in the first inning before Zack Leonard singled and eventually scored on a passed ball. Ben Magsig also singled with two outs and came home on Sam Ott's base hit.
Cooper settled in after the two-run first inning, retiring the Eagles in order in the second, third, fifth and seventh innings and allowing just five total baserunners over his final seven innings. Less than 24 hours after CMU went four relievers deep in its bullpen in an 11-10, 14-inning loss, Cooper struck out eight and walked just two in eight quality innings. He gave way to Reid Rooney for the ninth, who retired each of the three EMU hitters he faced.
The first five hitters reached in the top of the sixth, and the Chippewas took advantage of two Eastern Michigan errors to push across three runs in the frame. William Arnold was hit by a pitch, Howard walked and Dean reached on an error to load the bases with nobody out. Theunissen then singled home Arnold, and Russell reached on an error that allowed Howard to score. Theunissen scored from third on a wild pitch to stretch the lead to 6-2.
The Chippewas sent 11 hitters to the plate in their seven-run seventh inning that broke the game open. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Dean drove in Brendan Emmett with a sacrifice fly, Arnold scored on a passed ball and Theunissen singled home Howard to extend CMU's lead to 9-2. Theunissen later scored from third on a wild pitch with two outs to make it 10-2, and Hall, Emmett and Arnold tacked on three more runs with successive RBI singles.
CMU added a run in the ninth. Hall reached first with two outs after striking out on a wild pitch, advanced to second on another wild pitch and scored on a single by Emmett.
Hall and Theunissen both had three hits to lead CMU. Hall was 3-for-6, scored three runs and drove in one from the leadoff spot, while Theunissen was 3-for-5, scored twice and drove in three. Theunissen, the Chippewas designated hitter, is 5-for-8 at the plate with four runs and five RBIs in the series' first two games. CMU finished with 15 hits as a team Friday, but Hall's first-inning double was the only hit that went for extra bases.
Cooper improved to 6-3 with the win, his fourth in as many starts. Battistelli (6-3) took the loss, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits in 5-2/3 innings.
Saturday's game will mark the second straight year and third time in six seasons that CMU has played for at least a division title on the final day of the regular season. In 2010, CMU defeated Eastern Michigan, 10-2, in Mount Pleasant on the season's final day to clinch the MAC regular season title. In 2007, the Chippewas dropped an 11-10, 10-inning decision at Ball State on the final day in a game that carried MAC title implications. A year earlier, CMU rallied past Ball State, 19-16, at Theunissen Stadium to clinch the West Division title on the season's final day.