Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – One big inning, one timely hit.
Ball State got the former, Central Michigan could not deliver the latter.
The Cardinals scored all of their runs in the seventh inning Thursday in handing Central Michigan a 5-4 loss in the opener of a three-game Mid-American Conference baseball series at Theunissen Stadium.
The teams play game two of the series on Friday (3:05 p.m.) and close the series and the regular season on Saturday (2:05 p.m.). The MAC Tournament begins Wednesday, May 24, in Avon, Ohio.
The Chippewas (28-25) need to win one game in the series to clinch the outright MAC West title. They are 15-7 in league play. The Cardinals (29-25) are 13-9 in the MAC.
CMU took a 3-0 lead into the seventh thanks to Robert Greenman’s second-inning RBI groundout and Daniel Jipping’s two-run homer in the fourth. It was Jipping’s team-leading 11th home run of the season.
Ball State batted around in the seventh, scoring five runs on six hits and taking advantage of two wild pitches and two passed balls. Caleb Stayton’s two-out, two-strike single scored two runs to break a 3-3 tie and put the Cardinals in front for good.
CMU starter Pat Leatherman was solid through six innings. He surrendered two hits to open the seventh, and left for Michael Brettell (6-5), who was charged with three runs on six hits, while striking out four.
Leatherman surrendered two runs on three hits, walked one and struck out nine.
“Pat threw a hell of a game, but he was right around 100 pitches and we thought the seventh inning was going to be his last inning,” CMU coach Steve Jaksa said. “It was their third time through the lineup and we thought it was time to go to the bullpen. We needed to bridge that inning or two and we just weren’t able to do it today. It’s that simple.”
The Chippewas got a run back in the eighth on Zach Gilles’ sacrifice fly. But the Chippewas left the bases loaded when Jason Sullivan struck out – one of 10 CMU strikeouts – to end the inning.
The Chippewas stranded 11 baserunners and it marked the first time in 10 games that they struck out as many as 10 times.
“We just couldn’t get the extra knock in that situation that would have allowed us to tie the game or get the lead,” Jaksa said. “Some of the guys might have been pressing a little bit in that situation. It’s easy for me to say, but they’ve got to understand how to relax. They’ve all been in that situation a lot of times. If you go outside of who you are, bad things usually happen.”
“We got out of our approach there a little bit, swung at some balls that are uncharacteristic for us, a little bit out of the zone in the eighth and ninth. That’s not something that we usually do. We’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to bounce back tomorrow.”
Evan Kratt had three hits including a double to lead CMU at the plate, while Daniel Robinson added two hits.
Evan Marquardt (3-4) picked up the win in relief of Ball State starter Colin Brockhouse, and T.J. Baker, who came on to end the eighth with the strikeout of Sullivan, earned the save, his sixth.