Note: This preview appears in the Tuesday, May 21 newspaper on Page A6.
For the last month, the Bobcats have been working just to claim a chance at a conference title.
Now is the week to cash in that opportunity.
Ohio Baseball (18-32) begins the 2019 Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament on Wednesday at Sprenger Stadium in Avon, Ohio. The Bobcats will not be one of the favorites in the six-team field, but that’s not new territory for Ohio.
Guided by seven-year head coach Rob Smith, Ohio is in an unique position among all the tournament qualifying teams. The Bobcats have missed the event in four of Smith’s seven season at the helm, but when they’ve made the field they’ve won it.
The Bobcats were a five-seed for the tournament when it made the cut in 2017. Four days later, Ohio was 4-0 and had locked up a MAC title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. It was the same scenario in 2015, when Ohio cruised through the tournament at 4-0 as a No. 3 seed.
Under Smith, the Bobcats have yet to lose to a MAC Tournament game (8-0) and have claimed two of the three conference tournament titles in the program’s history — the other coming in 1997.
But this time around Ohio will be pushing those odds as far as they can go. The Bobcats were the worst-hitting team in the conference most of the season, and managed just 18 wins during the regular season.
The No. 1 seed, Central Michigan, enters the tournament at 43-12 and has posted 15 straight wins along going into the postseason.
But the Bobcats will have some strengths they will have to rely on during the week — namely senior infielder Rudy Rott and sophomore closer Brett Manis. The duo were named the MAC Player and Co-Pitcher of the Week, respectively, for their efforts in helping Ohio win two of three games — and clinch that tournament spot — at Western Michigan over the weekend.
Over the week, Rott notched at least two hits in each of Ohio’s four games and tallied a total of 12 RBI while posting a slugging percentage of 1.000.
Rott has 284 hits in his college career and will have a chance to set the new Ohio record this week. Rott needs just two to tie Jake Madsen (286) for the program’s career record.
Manis, meanwhile, pitched 7.1 innings and had 11 strikeouts in picking up one ‘win’ and one ‘hold’ in the Bobcats two wins at WMU. Manis has posted a 3.21 ERA this season and has collected 55 strikeouts in 42.0 innings of work.
Ohio will need both to continue to stay locked in. The Bobcats were just a combined 3-11 against the MAC Tournament field this season, and were swept in full three-game sets against both Ball State and NIU.
The ‘Cats open the tournament on Wednesday with a 12:30 p.m. start against No. 3 seed Kent State (30-22). The Golden Flashes won two of three games at Ohio this season — by 12-3 and 18-11 counts — before the Bobcats salvaged the finale in a 1-0 final.
With a win, Ohio would advance to play No. 1 seed CMU in the next round on Thursday at 2 p.m. A loss would put the Bobcats in an elimination game against either No. 4 Miami (36-17) or No. 5 Northern Illinois (18-34) on Thursday at 10 a.m.
2019 MAC Baseball Tournament
Wednesday, May 22
Game 1 — No. 3 Kent State vs. No. 6 Ohio, 12:30 p.m. ET
Game 2 — No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 Northern Illinois, 6 p.m. ET
Thursday, May 23
Game 3 — G1 Loser vs. G2 Loser, 10 a.m. ET
Game 4 — No. 1 Central Michigan vs. TBA, 2 p.m. ET*
Game 5 — No. 2 Ball State vs. TBA, 6 p.m. ET
Friday, May 24
Game 6 — G3 Winner vs. G4 or G5 Loser, 10 a.m. ET#
Game 7 — G6 Winner vs. G4 or G5 Loser, 2 p.m. ET#
Game 8 — G4 Winner vs. G5 Winner, 6 p.m. ET
Saturday, May 25
Game 9 — G7 Winner vs. G8 Loser, 12:30 p.m. ET
Game 10 — Championship Game, 6 p.m. ET
Sunday, May 26
Game 11 — Championship Game Replay, Noon ET (if necessary)
* The No. 1 seed will play the lowest seed to advance from the first round of the tournament games.
# The lowest seed to advance from games four & five will play in a game six (e.g. low is 6 seed) and the higher seed to advance from games four and five (e.g., high is 1 seed) will play in game 7. However, if No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both lose in games four and five, they will play each other in Game 6 with the advancing team facing the winner of game 3 in game 7. Exception: if one of the game 4 or 5 losers already has had a bye, that team will play in Game 6 regardless of seed.