Almost exactly a month out from the MAC tournament, the Eastern Michigan University baseball team (16-21, 6-14 MAC) rallied late in a crucial series to the visiting University of Toledo Rockets (18-20, 8-9 MAC) this weekend.
The first game of three in this series saw the Eagles shutout until the last inning when freshman infielder Cooper Vance (New Waterford, Ohio) was hit by a pitch for an automatic walk to advance senior Blake McRae (Armada, Michigan) across home plate. With Matt Kirk (Milford, Ohio) up next to hit and bases still loaded, he was walked for junior Logan Milene (Rochester, Minnesota) to score another run.
The scoring frenzy was not over for the Eagles, with sophomore Josh Kross (Brunswick, Ohio) hitting a two-run RBI single along the right side to send Vance and sophomore Jad Oestrike (Tomball, Texas) home. Oestrike is the grandson of Eagles baseball legend Ron Oestrike, who coached at Eastern Michigan for 23 years and is the namesake for Oestrike Stadium.
The Eagles’ four-run dance was not enough to overcome the six-run deficit, dropping game one, 4-10.
Saturday’s game started off similarly to game one, with the Rockets up 0-4 by the third inning. The Eagles would not remain shutout for long however, when senior Glenn Miller (Pentwater, Michigan) hit a grounded ball towards second base to send Vance home for their first run of the game.
Miller’s RBI was immediately followed by another from Kirk to put sophomore Logan Hugo (Essexville, Michigan) home and cut the Rockets’ lead in half.
Eastern Michigan took the lead in the fifth inning when junior Darren Kraft (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina) hit a grand slam to go up 6-5. Toledo responded promptly the following inning with a single RBI and three-run homerun to retake the lead, 6-9.
The Eagles were not done scoring though, with Kirk hitting a homerun in the sixth inning and graduate student Taylor Hopkins (Mason, Ohio) a single in the eighth.
The offense’s efforts were equally matched on defense with senior Luke Russo (Howell, Michigan) striking out eight hitters over five innings. Despite the home team’s collective effort, game two ultimately went to the Rockets, 9-10.
The Eagles kicked off the scoring for game three, building a five-run lead by the fourth inning. The Rockets were able to come back thanks to three-run homeruns in back-to-back innings to take the lead, 5-6. Toledo’s scoring run was finally capped off in the seventh inning with a single RBI up the middle to send another runner home, 5-7.
Kraft helped cut down the lead in the seventh inning with a single through the left side to send Kross home, 6-7.
The ninth inning was busy for both teams, with the Rockets scoring three runs in their time on offense. Down 6-11, Eastern Michigan had some serious work to do to dig themselves out. The chipping away of Toledo’s lead started with McRae hitting a single to send Kraft home, 7-11.
Following a pitching change by the Rockets, Hugo hit another single to push senior Aaron Dolney (Plymouth, Michigan) home, 8-11. Miller, up next, was hit by a pitch and sent to first.
After another pitching change by the visitors, graduate student Matt Kirk was up to bat. With two outs and all bases loaded, the outfielder hit a walk off grand slam, 12-11, to avoid a sweep by his former team. Kirk ultimately finished the game with six RBIs to tie a season high for the team and set his own career high.
The Eagles remain local for their next match, facing Alma College (14-16-1, 9-4 MIAA) in Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30p.m.
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