Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, May 19 newspaper on Page B1.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Rudy Rott was obviously not ready to have his season, or his college playing career, come to an end.
That feeling went double for left-handed closer Brett Manis.
Together, the pair of seniors kept Ohio’s season going with an 8-6 win over Western Michigan on Saturday at Bobb Stadium.
Ohio (18-32, 12-14 Mid-American Conference) won the series, and claimed the last available spot in the 2019 MAC Baseball Tournament, with the win. The Bobcats needed to win two of the three games in the series against WMU (18-31, 11-14 MAC) to edge out the Broncos for the last spot in the field, and did just that.
The ‘Cats did it thanks in large part to Rott and Manis.
Rott finished the three-game set a combined 7 of 13 at the plate with seven RBI and a pair of home runs. In two appearances in the series, Manis worked 7.1 innings of relief, notched a win in the first game of the set, and helped save Ohio with a strong effort on Saturday; he had 11 strikeouts in the series.
Both were large factors in Saturday’s decisive regular-season finale. Rott had two hits, two home runs and four RBI while helping the Bobcats amass a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning. Manis, the MAC leader in saves, came on in the fifth and got Ohio to the ninth with the lead intact. Manis worked a season-long 4.1 innings in relief and collected a season-high seven strikeouts while allowing seven hits and two earned runs.
Ohio starter Jack Liberatore (7-5) got the win after giving up four hits and a run in the first three innings. The Bobcats’ starter on Thursday, Edward Kutt IV, came on the ninth to pick up his first save of the season.
WMU finally chased Manis off the mound in the ninth, while trying to erase an 8-6 deficit. The Broncos got consecutive singles to start the inning, then a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third with one out.
Kutt was up to the challenge. He got a strikeout for out number two, then induced a grounder to second to clinch it.
Ohio will enter the MAC Tournament — the program’s first since 2017 — as the No. 6 seed. The rest of the field — No. 1 seed Central Michigan followed by Ball State, Kent State, Miami and Northern Illinois — was set before Saturday’s regular-season finale. The Bobcats will begin the tournament on Wednesday, May 22 at Sprenger Stadium in Avon, Ohio, against No. 3 seed Kent State.
WMU pounded out 15 hits, led by Drew Devine’s four and three more from Cooper Marshall, but failed to fully capitalize. The Broncos stranded 12 runners on base.
Ohio took control in the fourth with a six-run rally that knocked out WMU starter Jack Szott (1-7) and left the Broncos chasing most of the day.
After a one-out double from Tanner Piechnick, WMU reliever Will Mullen hit the next two batters to load the bases. Mullen then walked two more batters to push across two more runs and give Ohio a 3-1 lead.
Aaron Levy’s sacrifice fly made it 4-1, and then Rott cleared the bags against Zach Mehelich with a three-run homer to deep right that made it 7-1. Rott got the Bobcats on the board in the first inning with a solo homer.
Rott, now with 284 career hits, needs just two more hits to tie the Ohio career record (286, Jake Madsen).
WMU pulled to within 7-4 in the fifth when a mis-played fly ball in right field opened the door for a multiple-run rally. Devine and Logan Hudson had RBI singles and the Broncos cut the deficit to two.
Ohio added a single run in the seventh when Piechnick scored on a passed ball to make it 8-4.
WMU came back with two more runs in the bottom half when the Broncos cashed in a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation with runs on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. But Manis got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
For Ohio head coach Rob Smith, 2019 will be his third appearance in the MAC Tournament in seven seasons. The Bobcats won the tournament in both of the previous appearances under Smith (2015 and ’17), and have a combined 8-0 record in tournament play under Smith.
Rest of the series
Ohio kept its hope of advancing alive on Thursday with an 8-6 win over WMU, and the Broncos set up Saturday’s ‘do-or-die’ matchup with a 7-1 win on Friday.
On Thursday, Ohio raced out to a 4-0 lead but was mired in a 6-6 tie going into the eighth.
Rott, who finished with three hits and three RBI, broke the tie in the eighth with a two-run single that put the Bobcats ahead for good.
Manis, who came on in the seventh, worked the final three innings to pick up his first win of the season. Manis (1-1) gave up a game-tying run in the seventh, but was nearly perfect after that and struck out four.
On Friday, WMU piled up seven runs and 10 hits against Ohio starter Kenny Ogg (3-8) and never trailed.
Broncos starter Brady Miller (5-2) owned the mound as well, tossing a complete game and giving up one earned run on eight hits with five strikeouts.
Rott, still pursuing Ohio’s career hits record, finished a combined 5 of 8 with three RBI in the first two games of the series.
Ohio 8, Western Michigan 6
Ohio 100 600 100 — 8-8-1
WMU 010 030 020 — 6-15-0
Ohio — Jack Liberatore, Joe Rock (4), Brett Manis (5), Edward Kutt IV (9) and Tanner Piechnick.
WMU — Jack Szott, Will Mullen (4), Zach Mehelich (4), Dane Armbrustmacher (7), Tyler Thorington (8) and Jesse Forestell.
WP — Liberatore (7-5); LP — Szott (1-7); SV — Kutt (1).