AVON, Ohio -- In 2014, the Ohio baseball team won just 11 games after producing a 14-win campaign the season before.
Three years later, the Bobcats earned their second conference tournament championship in three seasons.
No. 5-seeded Ohio (31-26) capped another improbable league postseason run by defeating No. 3-seeded Eastern Michigan, 7-4, to clinch the 2017 Mid-American Conference Championship title on Sunday (May 28) at Sprenger Stadium.
"We've come a long way," said fifth-year head coach Rob Smith. "I couldn't be more proud of our kids. The seniors that we have were our first recruiting class, plus another handful of junior college kids we brought in along the way. For those guys to realize two championships, is really, really special."
Ohio earned its third MAC tournament title (1997, 2015, '17) with the victory. The Bobcats have now won nine of their last 10 games. Ohio has won eight-straight MAC tournament games dating back to its 4-0 championship run in 2015. The Bobcats opened 2017 MAC Championship play by beating No. 4-seeded Ball State, 4-3, on Wednesday (May 24). Ohio then advanced to the winner's bracket final thanks to a late-night 5-3 win over No. 1-seeded Kent State on Thursday (May 25). The Bobcats eliminated the Golden Flashes with a 7-2 victory on Saturday (May 27), marking the fourth time in five tries Ohio emerged victorious over the MAC regular season champion Golden Flashes in 2017.
The Bobcats will discover their 2017 NCAA Championship Regional destination on Monday (May 29) at noon ET, as the Selection Show announcing the 64-team bracket airs on ESPN2. A Watch Party beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET will be held at Buffalo Wild Wings in Athens.
The 2017 NCAA Championship consists of 16 four-team, double elimination Regionals, held at campus sites across the nation next weekend (June 2-5). The 16 regional host sites will be announced on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET. The 16 Regional champions advance to the NCAA Super Regionals, which will be held at campus sites the following weekend (June 9-12). The eight Super Regional champions punch tickets to Omaha, Neb., and the 2017 NCAA College World Series, which will be held June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park. The CWS is made up of two four-team, double elimination brackets. The survivors of the brackets play a best-of-three games national championship series to decide the NCAA champion.
Ohio will be making its 16th NCAA Championship appearance and is 17-28 (.395) all-time in national postseason play. The Bobcats went 0-2 at the NCAA Championship Champaign Regional in Champaign, Ill., in 2015, falling to No. 6 national seed Illinois, 10-3, and Wright State, 8-3. Ohio earned its lone trip to the NCAA College World Series in 1970, going 2-2. The Bobcats swept through District 4 play, beating Minnesota, 6-4, then topping Southern Illinois twice by scores of 7-0 and 8-5 to punch a ticket to the CWS. At the College World Series, Ohio went 2-2, beating Southern California, 4-1, falling to Texas, 7-2 and defeating Iowa State, 9-6, before being eliminated by Florida State, 2-0.
Redshirt junior left-hander Gerry Salisbury (Brunswick, Ohio) got the start on the mound for Ohio in Sunday's title game against Eastern Michigan. He worked his way out of a pair of jams in the first two frames that saw the Eagles put a pair of runners on base but fail to score.
The Bobcats then grabbed the early advantage in the top of the third as senior catcher Anthony Mrosla (Coon Rapids, Minn.) doubled down the down the left field line, moved up to third on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore center fielder Devon Garcia (Bowling Green, Ohio) and then tagged up and scored by way of a sacrifice fly right by senior shortstop Tyler Finkler (Olmsted Falls, Ohio).
Eastern Michigan quickly flipped the script of the game, though, by plating three runs in the home half of the third to grab a 3-1 advantage. Redshirt senior left fielder Mike Mioduszewski led off with a home run to left field -- his seventh of the season -- to tie the score. After senior catcher Jeremy Stidham drew a walk and senior designated hitter John Montgomery singled to right, Salisbury was lifted from the mound for sophomore right-handed reliever Kenny Ogg (Indianapolis, Ind.). Stidham scored from third to put the Eagles ahead on an RBI fielder's choice that allowed freshman first baseman Zachary Owings to reach base. After sophomore second baseman Max Schuemann doubled down the left field line, Owings scored from third on an RBI ground out to short by freshman third baseman Nick Jones
While Ohio's offense struggled to string together hits over the next four innings, Ogg kept the Bobcats in the game with his pitching. He worked five innings of relief, fanning one while giving up an unearned run on five hits and two walks.
Eastern Michigan took advantage of a pair of Ohio miscues in the seventh to extend its lead to 4-1. Sophomore center fielder Drake Lubin reached on an Ohio error with two outs, then scored on a double down the left field line by redshirt senior right fielder Jordan Peterson and another Ohio error.
The Eagles threatened to blow the contest wide open in the seventh. Montgomery drew a one-out walk, Schuemann sent a two-out single through the left side and Jones reached on another Ohio error to load the bases. Junior right fielder Tony Giannini (Carmel, Ind.) swung the momentum back in favor of the Bobcats with his hustle on what was arguably the play of the game. Redshirt senior shortstop Marquise Gill fouled a ball off to the right toward the Ohio bullpen. Giannini came charging over from the outfield and laid out to make a spectacular inning-ending catch, keeping Eastern Michigan from adding to its lead.
Finkler picked up where Giannini left off in the top of the eighth by leading off with a single through the left side. Senior left fielder Spencer Ibarra (Fort Collins, Colo.) followed with a ground-rule double to left. That set the stage for senior second baseman Ty Black (Waynesville, Ohio) to hit perhaps the biggest home run of his career -- a three-run blast to left field that evened the score at three-all. Eastern Michigan then lifted junior right-handed starting pitcher Brad Allen for senior righty Sam Delaplane, but Ohio kept attacking. Redshirt junior designated hitter Michael Klein (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) beat out a one-out infield single to third, then Giannini singled to right one out later. Klein scored the go-ahead run for the Bobcats on a fielder's choice and an Eastern Michigan error that put Mrosla on base. Both Giannini and Mrosla then scored when Garcia delivered a dagger two-run double to left center, making it a 7-4 advantage for Ohio.
"Biggest hit of my life," said Black of his fourth home run of the season. "Biggest situation that I've been in. I don't even know what happened. I don't even know what happened. I rounded first base, ball went over the fence, and I was somewhere in right field. I didn't know what to do. I'd seen a lot of sliders all day, changeups. I got into a 3-1 count, and I was sitting dead-red fastball. He left it elevated just enough, and I put a good swing on it and tied the game up. We just rolled from there."
Ohio's veteran bullpen arms locked down the championship win for the Bobcats. Senior right-hander Jake Rudnicki (Toledo, Ohio) retired the side in the home half of the eighth -- including a pair of strikeouts. Redshirt junior right-handed closer Jake Roehn (Sandwich, Ill.) then came on to finish the Eagles off in the bottom of the ninth. After getting Stidham to fly out to left and Montgomery to strike out swinging, Owings and Schuemann hit back-to-back singles through the right side. Roehn buckled down, though, and got Jones swinging to win the title. The 2017 All-MAC First Team selection earned his program-record 15th save of the year.
Roehn's career saves total now stands at 22, which is tied with Chad Reed (1989-92) for the most in program history.
Ogg was credited with the win on the mound for Ohio, improving to 3-1 on the year.
Garcia produced Ohio's lone multi-hit effort of the day, going 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs.
Schuemann went 3-for-5 with a double to lead Eastern Michigan's bats. Peterson finished 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI while Montgomery tallied a pair of singles and drew a walk.
Allen gave the Eagles seven innings on the mound, fanning two while permitting four earned runs on seven hits and a walk. Delaplane took the loss, falling to 4-3 on the year. He gave up three earned runs on three hits while striking out one.
The Bobcats placed five players on the 2017 All-MAC Championship Team -- Ibarra, Black, Mrosla, Klein and senior right-handed starting pitcher Tom Colletti (Wheaton, Ill.). Ibarra garnered Most Valuable Player distinction, joining outfielder Bart Leahy (1997) and right-handed pitcher Logan Cozart (2015) as the only players in Ohio's history to earn such honors. Ibarra hit .368 with seven hits, two RBIs and three runs scored over four games. Black collected four hits -- including two doubles and his huge home run. Mrosla hit .400 with four hits -- including a pair of doubles. Klein batted .357 with five hits, three RBIs.
and four runs scored. He also started on the mound in Thursday night's win over Kent State, striking out four over five innings. Colletti twirled a complete-game three-hitter with a career-high nine strikeouts in Saturday's victory over the Golden Flashes in the bracket final.
"It's one of the best feelings I've ever had," said Ibarra. "I can't really put words to it right now. It all seems so surreal, but I'm glad it happened to us. There's a lot of guys on this team that could have got this award, and I'm so thankful that I have this group of guys and coaches behind me."