Thursday, March 31, 2011

Live blog: Baseball is here! Tigers battling Yankees on Opening Day


Free Press special writer Anthony Fenech is live-blogging today’s Opening Day contest between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees. Anthony couldn’t make it to the Big Apple, so he’ll be bringing you his thoughts off of Fox Sports Detroit’s telecast.

Also follow beat writer John Lowe’s observations on Twitter @freeptigers.

Feel free to discuss the game with Anthony in the chat below. For those of you on our mobile site, we will post periodic game updates below the chat. Enjoy the REGULAR-SEASON baseball, everyone!

PODCAST: Project 989 -- The day we've been waiting for

Sunday, March 27, 2011

CMU baseball unable to capitalize on opportunities in series at Miami

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 27, 2011

They didn’t show up in the box score, but they could have gone either way.

Two late-inning defensive plays, a line drive up the middle an inch away or a deep fly ball a foot away. But in a conference-opening series sweep by Miami University, they were the biggest plays.

“The bottom line is that we had two opportunities to win,” said Central Michigan baseball head coach Steve Jaksa.

In the bottom of the ninth inning of Friday night’s series opener at McKie Field in Oxford, Ohio, with the score tied at one, runners on first and second and the Chippewas at bat, Jaksa decided to pinch-hit senior infielder Tom Howard.

The move came just after RedHawks starter Mac Thoreson was pulled in favor of left-handed reliever Sam Dawe and after Thoreson previously stymied the CMU offense to one run on seven hits.

Howard lined a pitch up the middle, but off of Dawes glove and to RedHawks second baseman Jon Edgington, who turned an inning-ending double play.

“Unfortunately that ball didn’t go through,” Jaksa said.

The ball didn’t go through and, two innings later, the ball went over the head of sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean as a bloop single off the bat of Miami first baseman Kyle Weldon scored the winning run in the 2-1 extra-innings victory.

“It would have been nice to have gotten a little momentum in that first game,” Jaksa said.

Junior starting pitcher Trent Howard pitched nine innings, allowing one run on five hits and struck out 13. In relief, sophomore Dietrich Enns walked three and was tabbed with the first loss of his collegiate career.

In the second game, Miami scored three runs in the top of the ninth on back-to-back errors by senior shortstop Robbie Harman for a 3-0 victory.

An inning earlier, senior first baseman Brendan Emmett flied out to deep center field with two runners on before RedHawks center fielder Ryan Brenner made a running one-handed catch to end the inning.

“Six inches to a foot of a difference,” Jaksa said, “and that one falls in.”

Junior reliever Harvey Martin picked up the loss for CMU (9-15, 0-3 Mid-American Conference), after taking over for starting pitcher Zach Cooper in the eighth inning.

Cooper did not allow a run in seven-plus innings pitched. He struck out eight.

In the series finale, part of a Saturday doubleheader scheduled because of Sunday storms in the area, the RedHawks (12-11, 3-0 MAC) tagged starting pitcher Jake Sabol for seven runs on seven hits in the first three innings and cruised to a 9-4 win.

Tom Howard drove in two runs and hits leader Tyler Hall had two hits.

“Results aside, I think we pitched very well,” Jaksa said. “I think we played our first two games very well. But we didn’t convert hits well enough.”

The Chippewas return to action with back-to-back midweek games at Notre Dame and Michigan State beginning on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Sweet 16 talk with college basketball insider Ryan Greene

Team meeting in Missouri propels Chippewas

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 24, 2011

The Central Michigan baseball team lost a few games.

Then they won a few games. Then last Saturday evening, after dropping the first two games of a weekend series to Missouri, the rains came.

The Chippewas were just doubled up by the Tigers, 14-7, a day after falling a run short, and head coach Steve Jaksa wanted to talk to his team.

So he summoned them to the bus after dinner and, exactly a third of the way through the 2011 season, held a team meeting.

“We had a really good meeting with the guys,” Jaksa said. “It wasn’t about any one particular thing but collectively, as a team, what we wanted to do.”

And the next day, the Chippewas did what they wanted to do.

After losing the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, CMU responded with an 8-1 drubbing of the Tigers on getaway day.

“I thought we played extremely well that day,” Jaksa said. “I was very pleased with where we were as a team and liked our attitude.

“Now we’re going to build on it.”

The meeting, Jaksa said on Thursday from his office, “Was just a meeting” and to not read too much into it.

But the meeting, he also said, concentrated on consistency, having toughness together and competing one game at a time.

“We’ve been kind of up and down,” said junior outfielder Andrew Thomas. “It was about toughness, playing consistent and not letting ourselves get into bad situations.

“Hopefully that meeting really gets us to turn things around heading into conference play.”

The Chippewas are 9-12 heading into Mid-American Conference play, which begins today at Miami University, as hopes of defending last year’s regular season championship get underway.

“Can we do it?” Jaksa asked. “If, as we move forward, we’re a little bit more passionate about what we’re trying to get at as a group.”

But Jaksa doesn’t confuse passion with hard play.

“The bottom line is that we’ve played hard,” he said. “And it’s going to be very important to continue to play like that and play that style.

“It’s the only chance we have to be good is to play as hard as we can.”

And despite the losing record, the team’s hustle has not gone unnoticed in the box score where, routinely this early season, the Chippewas have battled back from early deficits, big deficits, and on more than one occasion, erased deficits.

“We can’t ever get those games back,” Jaksa said.

And don’t count on the team looking at the past, with the heart of the conference schedule approaching fast.

“We have to find our identity and accept responsibility,” Jaksa said. “It’s not always how you play, but how you get ready to play.”

In the two games that followed on Sunday after the team meeting, the Chippewas didn’t record an error, a stark contrast from the handful of errors in the first two games of the series.

“We can do it,” Jaksa said. “Now they know that. No errors in 18 innings on foreign soil showed it.”

Now they have to build on it.

Once injury-riddled, OF Andrew Thomas makes full return

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 24, 2011

Andrew Thomas stepped into the batter’s box a week ago for the first time in nearly two years.

It was the top of the eighth inning in last Friday’s series-opener at Missouri, and head coach Steve Jaksa called on the junior outfielder to pinch-hit with two outs, nobody on base and the Chippewas trailing by two.

And for the first time in his baseball career, Thomas — standing with a bat in his hands inside of a batter’s box — was nervous.

“It was definitely nerve-racking,” he said. “I hadn’t seen a live pitch in over a year.”

After seeing a full count of live pitches, Thomas found the pitch he was looking for — a fastball — and singled, scoring two batters later to pull the Chippewas within a run.

“Once I saw the first pitch, it all started coming back to me,” he said.

But it wasn’t the first time Thomas felt it coming back. He felt it two seasons ago, when, fully recovered from a broken thumb that ended his freshman year, Thomas tore a labrum in his shoulder, effectively ending his sophomore year.

He felt it last winter, when, hot on the comeback trail once again, Thomas broke his wrist. And he felt it last spring, when, almost recovered from his broken wrist, Thomas injured his groin and was shelved for the 2010 season.

Now, he’s feeling it again.

“It feels amazing,” Thomas said. “It’s just amazing to be back on the field again.”

And after four surgeries in under two years time; first it was a broken thumb, then the torn labrum, then the broken wrist before hurting his groin last season, Thomas is back and figures to make a big contribution to the CMU lineup down the stretch.

“I think this is a boost to his morale,” Jaksa said. “He has a good attitude, works hard and most importantly, deserves the opportunity to play.”

And after missing the first 17 games of the season, Thomas made an appearance in all four games against the Tigers.

He was plunked twice on Saturday and started both games in a Sunday doubleheader, scoring a run in each.

“Once I was healthy, I told [Jaksa] I was ready to go,” Thomas said. “Hopefully I proved to him that my body is ready.”

But during the long months of rehabilitating from one injury to the next, the redshirt junior admits there were times he didn’t know if his body would ever be ready.

“It was real tough,” he said. “Always one thing after another. I couldn’t play then I couldn’t practice and honestly, I didn’t know if I’d ever be healthy again.”

But Thomas is healthy again, still receiving treatment on his shoulder daily and, after a clearing a few mental hurdles — a handful of at-bats, running the bases and making a diving catch last weekend — feels like his body is back.

“I knew that it was eventually going to be alright,” he said. “I just needed to get back out there.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Baseball salvages weekend with series finale in at Missouri

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 20, 2011

The Central Michigan baseball team beat Missouri, 8-1, on Sunday afternoon in the final game of a four-game set in Columbia, Mo.

“I thought we played extremely well today,” said head coach Steve Jaksa. “I really liked where we were at with our attitudes and it showed.”

The Chippewas responded to dropping the first three games of the series to the Tigers with a big fourth inning, propelling them to victory in the second game of a doubleheader.

Junior catcher Will Arnold and junior outfielder Sam Russell delivered run-scoring singles, and the run production was enough for junior right-hander Zach Cooper.

Cooper pitched six innings, allowed one run on four hits and struck out three.

“Zach gave us a good game on the mound,” Jaksa said.

Arnold collected three hits on the game, driving in four runs and senior shortstop Robbie Harman had two hits.

After the Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to cut the CMU lead in half, the Chippewas responded with two runs in the eighth inning.

Junior outfielder Eric Wrozek led off the inning with a solo home run, and sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean scored on a RBI single off the bat of Arnold to put the game out of reach.

“We got some big hits out of our lineup,” Jaksa said. “Even in the first game, we put together some really good at bats.”

In the opening game, the Chippewas lost 8-6.

CMU fell behind early but hit its way back into the game late, scoring three runs in the eighth inning when senior infielder Tom Howard smacked a three-run homer.

Howard had two hits and drove in four runs.

“He put us in a position to come back,” Jaksa said.

Sunday’s doubleheader was forced by a Saturday rainout. On Saturday, the Chippewas fell 14-7.

Russell hit his third home run of the season and freshman catcher Matt Stevens drove in three runs.

In the series opener, junior left-hander Trent Howard was touched up for four runs in five innings as CMU lost on Friday, 7-6.

“I felt we did some good things this weekend,” said Jaksa. “Now we’re going to build on it.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Live blog: Michigan State's season ends with loss in NCAA Tournament


Second half

18:00: MSU trails, 46-29.

15:38: MSU trails, 48-35. Draymond Green with two three-pointers in the half.

11:28: MSU trails, 54-39. Honeycutt has 14. Green has 13.

7:44: MSU trails, 64-45. Green has 15.

5:19: MSU trails, 64-51, thanks to 10-0 run.

3:40: MSU trails, 69-61. Green 21 points. Honeycutt and Joshua Smith each have 14.

1:03: MSU trails, 76-69.
First half

15:44: MSU trails, 10-4.

11:40: MSU trails, 14-8. UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt has six points.

8:10: MSU trails, 26-11, and calls time-out.

3:24: MSU trails, 33-19. Durrell Summers has nine points. Malcolm Lee has seven.

0:00: MSU trails, 42-24. Summers has 12. Honeycutt has nine.

PODCAST: Project 989 -- Sports guys' picks

Baseball to play four-game series against Missouri

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 17, 2011

It took a month, but Steve Jaksa is starting to see consistency in the play of his Central Michigan baseball team.

“It’s the biggest thing we’ve improved in,” he said on Thursday, as the team traveled by bus to Columbia, Mo., for a weekend series against Missouri.

“I know we’re going to play hard,” Jaksa continued. “We’ll continue to do that and keep improving on our consistency from an everyday standpoint.”

The improvements have been visible on the scoreboard during a three-game winning streak in which the Chippewas have limited their errors and, perhaps most importantly, their opponents offensively.

“Two of the things you can control the most are defense and pitching,” Jaksa said, “and we’re coming around in those areas.”

CMU (8-9) opens its four-game set against the Tigers tonight at Simmons Field.

Starting on the mound for the Chippewas will be left-hander Trent Howard, who was recently named Mid-American Conference West Division Pitcher of the Week.

Howard ignited the Chippewas win streak with a two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Indiana last week.

It was the junior’s second consecutive outing with double-digit strikeout totals and the team’s second consecutive week with a pitcher earning conference honors.

“We have pitched well,” said Jaksa. “That’s what we’re looking for: everyone throwing well each game over a period of games.”

Howard leads the team with a 2.16 ERA and 29 strikeouts.

He will be followed in the rotation by Bryce Morrow and Ryan Longstreth in a Saturday doubleheader and junior Zach Cooper on Sunday.

Both teams enter the series winners of three out of the last four games.

Missouri (7-9) recently took three out of four from LeMoyne College and Jaksa said the Big 12 Conference consistently ranks amongst the best in the country.

The Chippewas finished strong in the second half of an eight-game Florida trip over spring break, winning its final two games before defeating Madonna, 3-1, at Theunissen Stadium on Tuesday.

Through a month of play, junior infielder Tyler Hall leads the team with a .356 batting average and junior outfielder Sam Russell is setting the pace with two home runs and 12 RBI.

As a team, CMU is hitting .251 with a 4.30 ERA in 17 games.

“We’re playing good,” said Jaksa. “But this team will be a tough test.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baseball enters Russ Matt on three-game losing streak

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 09, 2011

It was a tale of two losses.

After opening last weekend’s Bright House Invitational with a come-from-behind, extra innings win over Illinois, the Central Michigan baseball team dropped its final two games of the tournament and have lost three straight.

“We’ve been very competitive,” said head coach Steve Jaksa. “Unfortunately we haven’t been rewarded with a win these last few games, but that’s baseball.”

On Tuesday, the Chippewas fell to Stetson for the second time in three days, losing 9-1 after the Hatters pulled away with six runs in the eighth inning.

Left-handed starting pitcher Ryan Longstreth pitched seven solid innings but tired in the eighth and was charged with the loss.

Longstreth’s final line showed five earned runs, six hits allowed and four walks, but the senior kept CMU within striking distance until late.

“He really pitched well for us,” Jaksa said. “He retired so many guys in a row and [Stetson] did a good job of getting into our bullpen.”

In the top of the eighth inning, junior Sam Russell cut the lead to two after hitting his second home run of the season, a solo shot, but the Stetson six spot in the home half proved too much to overcome for the Chippewas (4-8).

“The end number didn’t look good,” Jaksa said, “But it was a heck of a game.”

And it was a heck of a game on Sunday as well, when a bases-loaded single from first baseman Ryan Lashley gave the Hatters a walk-off 9-8 win at Melching Field.

“It was tough,” Jaksa said. “We played very well and I was really happy with the way our guys came out with the energy and enthusiasm that they did.”

CMU erred in the ninth inning on a high chopper off home plate, when third baseman Tyler Hall and relief pitcher Harvey Martin collided.

Jaksa noted the play as a conflict in communication as the players battled the crowd noise.

“At the end of the day, we made a mistake and they capitalized on it,” he said.

Junior first baseman Nate Theunissen delivered a two-out, two-run single to tie the game in the eighth and three Chippewas recorded two hits in the game.

CMU went 1-2 in tournament play and dropped Saturday’s matinee in a 3-1 pitcher’s duel to Columbia.

Junior starting pitcher Trent Howard pitched well, striking out 11 in seven-plus innings of work but was outdueled by Columbia senior Geoff Whitaker, who kept the Chippewas off-balance and allowed only one run on four hits.

“The final analysis was their guy pitched a little bit better than our guy,” Jaksa said.

Senior right fielder Matt Faiman had two hits in the loss.

The Chippewas take on Lehigh at 3 p.m. Wednesday to open the Russ Matt Tournament in Winter Haven, Fla.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Late rally pushes CMU past Illinois

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || March 04, 2011

Through seven innings of play Friday afternoon, the Central Michigan baseball team couldn’t figure out Illinois starting pitcher Kevin Johnson.

The sophomore right-hander stymied the Chippewas, allowing no runs on five hits, and left after the seventh inning with a five-run cushion.

But then came the eighth inning and six Chippewas runs to take the lead. And three more in extra innings to seal a tournament-opening 9-6 victory over the Fighting Illini at the Bright House Invitational in DeLand, Fla.

“It was a really good win for us,” said head coach Steve Jaksa. “No question. You can’t say it any other way.”

Trailing by five runs late, CMU drew three consecutive walks to open the eighth inning and thanks in large part to a pair of two-RBI singles from sophomore second baseman Jordan Dean and senior right fielder Matt Faiman, scored six runs in the frame to take the lead.

Illinois (3-4) tied the game in the bottom half of the inning and senior shortstop Robbie Harman’s suicide squeeze in the 10th inning scored senior outfielder Sam Russell and proved to be the game’s deciding play.

“I thought they were going to come after Robbie,” said Jaksa about the suicide squeeze. “He stayed with it and got the ball on the ground.”

Harman bunted a breaking ball off Illinois reliever Will Strack with no balls and one strike in the count.

But what impressed Jaksa most about the comeback were the two insurance runs CMU added after Harman’s squeeze.

“You can never score enough runs in this game,” he said. “I was very happy with the way we came back and kept the pressure on.”

Starting pitcher Bryce Morrow went six innings, allowing five runs on six hits, followed by relievers Mike Nixon, Jon Weaver and Dietrich Enns.

“I was really pleased with how our pitchers threw,” Jaksa said. “Every one of those guys got big outs for us.”

Sophomore designated hitter Jordan Adams recorded three hits and Dean prolonged his hit streak to eight games with an eighth inning single.

CMU (4-5) takes on Columbia on Saturday at Stetson University’s Melching Field.