MAC Baseball Notebook

Updated 4/17/2001
With four weeks of the Mid-American Conference season remaining, both the East and West Division races are beginning to take shape. Bowling Green, at 11-4, leads the East Division by two and a half games over Marshall (7-5), three games over Kent State (6-5) and three and a half over Miami (6-6).

In the West, Ball State (12-2) has a two-game advantage over Eastern Michigan (10-4), with the two teams facing one another next weekend in Muncie, Ind. The Cardinals also have a three-game lead over Central Michigan (8-4), and last year’s co-divisional champions will meet May 4-6 in Muncie. The six-team MAC Tournament will take place May 16-19 at the top seed, which is the team with the best overall conference winning percentage.

After hitting 92 home runs the week prior in league play, the number dipped to 57 this past weekend for MAC teams. Bowling Green, the league’s best hitting team at .348, hit 13 homers at Marshall and have hit 32 home runs in its last eight MAC games. The Falcons, however, trail Ohio for the top spot in the league in home runs, 66-57.

Junior John VanBenschoten has led the offensive charge for Kent State this season. VanBenschoten leads Kent State in virtually every hitting category. He ranks first on the team in batting average (.432), runs (32), hits (48), triples (4), home runs (11), RBIs (34), slugging percentage (.847) and on-base percentage (.533).

VanBenschoten’s name also appears in Baseball America’s Apr. 30 edition as a midseason All-America among the junior class. In addition, he is also on the watch list for the publication’s Louisville Slugger College Baseball Player of the Year.

Marshall ended a 31-year streak without a win over Bowling Green when the Thundering Herd defeated the East Division leaders 12-10 last Friday (Apr. 13). Jason Ricceri’s three-run home run in the eighth gave Marshall the win. The Herd’s last win over the Falcons was back in 1970.

Ball State’s Bryan Bullington has been in control of late on the mound. In his last five appearances which span 37.0 innings, the sophomore has tossed four straight complete games -- three of which were nine inning games -- and has fanned 44 while walking only two. Bullington, who leads the league in strikeouts with 75 and is second in ERA (2.79), also appeared as a midseason All-America pick among sophomores, according to Baseball America.

Bowling Green’s 23-10 overall record to date has surprised some early on, especially on the pitching side. The Falcons lost first-team all-MAC hurler and ERA leader Tony Fontana to the MLB Draft last summer, but BG’s first-year pitcher have had a major impact to the early season success. Bowling Green’s five freshman pitchers -- Ryan Lindquist, Neil Schmitz, Clayton Booth, Kyle Knoblauch and Keith Laughlin -- have a combined 13-5 record.

Akron freshman Brady Steineck has used the month of April to raise his batting average after adjusting to the college game. Steineck is batting .395 (15-for-38) in April to raise his average 84 percentage points to .284, which is third among regulars on the Zips.

Buffalo has had its share of difficult moments this season, its first as a member of the MAC, and last week the Bulls added to the list of heartbreaks. In their non-conference doubleheader with LeMoyne, the Bulls lost both games on walk-off home runs, including a grand slam in the opening contest. It was the fourth time this season that Buffalo has lost games in the opponents’ final at-bat, and the third time that games were decided on walk-off homers.

Eastern Michigan’s three-game sweep of Toledo last weekend gave the Eagles 10 MAC wins to date, with four weeks left in the schedule. The win total surpassed last year’s mark of nine. EMU also equaled the home run output from a year ago with 33, including the team’s second grand slam of 2001 from Greg Anglin (versus Toledo).

After entering the week four games below .500 for the first time in head coach Tracy Smith’s four-plus years at the helm, Miami responded by winning all six of its games. The week began with a 7-6 come-from-behind win over Cincinnati where catcher Justin Knoedler was 2-for-5 at the plate with a home run and two RBIs, and threw out two potential base stealers. He then pitched a perfect ninth inning to pick up his first collegiate victory.

Northern Illinois won its sixth straight game last Tuesday (Apr. 10) against Mount St. Clare (7-0). The streak is the longest since the school brought the sport back in 1991, while the win was head coach Dave Schrage’s 40th at NIU. The Huskies had the streak come to an end three days later when they lost a 14-13 game to Western Michigan.

After not hitting a home run in each of his first two seasons and part of a third, Central Michigan junior Scott Pickens has hit four home runs in his last 16 games. His four homers are fourth on the team.

This season, 31 players have recorded hitting streaks of 10 games or better, including eight players who have an active streak. The longest streak in the MAC this year was Kent State’s John VanBenschoten, who hit safely in 22 consecutive games. Listed below are the players that through Apr. 16 have current hitting streaks of 10 games or more:

Name, School -- Streak
Bryan Scheurer, CMU -- 14
Andi Scheidt, MIA -- 13
Chuck Lombardy, Ohio -- 12
Paul Henry, BSU -- 11
Len Elias, BGSU -- 10
Eric O’Brien, KSU -- 10
J.D. Foust, UT -- 10
Phil Pilewski, UT -- 10