Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Robert Greenman delivered the biggest hit of his career when his team most needed it.
Greenman hit a three-run walk-off home run to cap a four-run ninth inning Friday as the Central Michigan baseball team came from behind for a dramatic 8-6 Mid-American Conference victory over Ball State at Theunissen Stadium.
The win evened the series at a game apiece and it gave the Chippewas the outright MAC West title. It also kept alive CMU’s hopes of an overall league title.
“Saw a fastball, put a pretty good swing on it, was lucky enough for it to go over the fence,” said Greenman, one of four seniors on the Chippewa roster who were honored in the pregame Senior Day ceremony. “I think (the pitch) was right down the middle. It’s kind of a blur.”
It was Greenman’s ninth homer of the season and, he said, the first time he had ever delivered a walk-off hit. He got the requisite water dousing from his euphoric teammates shortly after crossing home plate.
“It’s pretty chilly,” Greenman said. “Can’t really feel it though. It’s a special moment, most of my family’s here. It’s always fun to celebrate with these guys.”
The Chippewas, who are 29-25 overall, 16-7 MAC, close the regular season on Saturday (1:05 p.m.) against the Cardinals.
CMU trails Kent State, which is 17-6 in league play, by one game in the overall standings. If the Chippewas win and Kent State loses at Ohio on Saturday, CMU and Kent share the league title.
Greenman’s heroics came after pinch hitter Trent Theisen put Ball State (29-26, 13-10) up, 6-4, with an eighth-inning grand slam off Chippewa closer Colton Bradley. It was just the second home run allowed this season by Bradley (6-1), who earned the victory in relief of starter Tyler Hankins.
“One pitch that got away from Colton,” CMU coach Steve Jaksa said. “Pretty much the only pitch all year that’s gotten away from him. I said to him after, we wouldn’t even be close to where we’re at today without him, and I mean that sincerely. He’ll learn from that and he’s going to be better from that experience.”
Jason Sullivan struck out to open the bottom of the ninth, but reached base on a wild pitch by Brendan Burns (4-3), who took the loss.
Daniel Robinson and Daniel Jipping walked to load the bases and Evan Kratt hit a sacrifice fly to score Sullivan and draw the Chippewas to 6-5. Greenman hit the first pitch from Burns over the wall in right-center.
“I was so excited not only for (Greenman), but for our ball club,” Jaksa said. “We really fought hard today. Our boys hung in there and got to celebrate a little bit, at home, which is always a great feeling.”
The victory, and the way it came, was particularly gratifying, Jaksa said. The Chippewas dropped Thursday’s series opener, 5-4, in heartbreaking fashion when they squandered a 3-0 lead and left the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
Add to that the fact that they let a 4-2 lead slip away on a grand slam in the eighth on Friday, and it was enough to make even a veteran baseball man like Jaksa emotional.
“How we came back today, that’s how life is,” he said. “Don’t stay down. Fight back a little bit, come back. It’s an attitude, attitude and the heart. You got a good heart nobody can ever take that away from you. It’s a testament to our guys showing that kind of resilience after a tough loss (on Thursday), losing the lead in the eighth, and then figuring out a way to put that kind of a rally together.”
Hankins, a freshman left-hander, turned in another magnificent start for the Chippewas, allowing three runs on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts over seven innings. It marked the ninth time in his last 11 starts that Hankins has gone at least six innings.
“Hank, he just pitched tremendous,” Jaksa said. “Did a great job.”