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The Eastern Echo Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

EMU baseball kicks off 2023 campaign with three-game series against Northern Kentucky

The Eagles went 1-2 in their opening weekend of play.

The Eastern Michigan University baseball team got its season started in Hoover, Alabama, on Friday, Feb. 17, when the Eagles began a three-game series against the Northern Kentucky University Norse. EMU dropped its season opener on Friday, 9-2, and lost a tough game, 5-4, late on Saturday. The Eagles salvaged the weekend on Sunday and avoided the sweep by defeating NKU, 13-9.

Reigning Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, graduate student Matt Kirk, would lead the Eagles in batting average over the weekend series with five hits on 10 at-bats (.500), including a home run, a double, and two runs batted in. Fellow graduate student Taylor Hopkins’ bat was also stellar over the three-game stretch that featured an extra-base hit in each, as he batted an impressive eight runners in on four hits over 10 at-bats (.400) that included a home run, and two doubles. 

Friday’s season opener saw the Eagles take the lead in the first inning as senior, Glenn Miller, registered a lead-off hit on the very first at-bat of the season for EMU and eventually made his way around the bases to score a run after Hopkins was walked while the bases were loaded. 

NKU tallied three runs in the third inning, one in the fifth, and five in the sixth, to total nine runs for the Norse before the Eagles would score their second run of the day. In the seventh inning, Kirk collected his third hit of the afternoon and drove in runner junior Darren Kraft to attempt to kickstart a comeback, but no other team would score as the final result was 9-2, in favor of NKU.

Kraft notably made his first career start for the Eagles during Friday’s season opener and recorded his first collegiate stolen base in the second inning of the contest.

Saturday's game started similarly to Friday’s, as the Eagles got out to an early, 1-0, lead when Miller was hit by a pitch to start the game off and an error by the catcher, a couple of batters later, allowed the base runner to score an unearned run. 

Hopkins padded that lead in the fifth inning with a three-run homer, marking the first EMU home run of the 2023 campaign. Hopkins' shot over the right field wall pushed the Eagles’ advantage to, 4-0, but the Norse were able to respond with four runs of their own in the sixth inning and one more in the seventh to ultimately come back and win the match, 5-4.

Senior pitcher, Luke Russo, started the game and tossed four strikeouts over five shutout innings and sat down nine consecutive batters in the two to five-inning stretch before giving up four earned runs in the sixth.

The Eagles saved their best game for the series finale on Sunday, and even though they started this game with a 1-0 lead in the first inning, just as they had on Friday and Saturday, the real fireworks came at the end of the game.

The first run scored in the opening inning came via a solo home run shot from Kirk and then the Eagles’ bats would fall silent while the Norse would slowly build a 5-1 lead over the next couple of innings. 

EMU pushed two runners across in the sixth inning when sophomore Josh Kross slapped down a two-RBI single that would score Kirk and Kraft from the bases. NKU would respond with another run to begin the seventh, but the Eagles responded with five runs of their own highlighted by Hopkins’ two-run single to take an 8-6 lead heading into the eighth. 

The Norse were able to add three runs in the eighth to reclaim the lead, but Hopkins provided once again with a two-run double that would help the Eagles complete the comeback and spark another five-run scoring explosion. 

Those five runs would be enough as the Eagles collected their first win of the 2023 baseball season with a 13-9 win over NKU and avoided the weekend sweep. Senior pitcher Nick Chittum would come in to pitch the final 1.1 innings and earn himself the win in the relief effort. 

Up next, the Eagles will find themselves in Evansville, Indiana for another three-game weekend series, this time with the University of Evansville Aces. The first pitch will take place on Friday, Feb. 24, at 3 p.m. and can be streamed live on ESPN+.

EMU Baseball Season Preview

For more information on the Eastern Michigan University baseball team, you can listen to "TheBlockE Podcast" weekly for updates.