Wednesday, Dec 07, 2016
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Rockets fall to Central Michigan in MAC tournament

AVON, Ohio -- Some day they'll be able to reflect on the positives.

Winning the first division title in program history. Securing the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. A trailblazing senior class that leaves the program sturdier than when they arrived.

Some day was not Thursday morning, as an abrupt exit from the Mid-American Conference baseball tournament masked the glow of an otherwise stellar season for University of Toledo.

"Right now," said senior first baseman Mark Lapikas, "it stings."

Once again a feeble offensive output was the Rockets' undoing in a 4-3 loss to Central Michigan in an elimination game at All Pro Freight Stadium. A team that lost just three league games in the final month and a half of the season, fell twice in less than 24 hours.

UT collected three runs and 10 hits in the tournament, a paralyzing effort that flattened its bid to capture a MAC title for the first time.

Its ineffectiveness at the plate was pronounced in critical at-bats.

Bases were left loaded in the seventh and eighth innings, a failure to seize an opportunity that was not unlike Wednesday night's 5-0 setback to Miami when UT was hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

What's more, in 18 innings the Rockets were retired in order nine times. Fourteen innings came and went before they finally plated a runner on Ben Hammer's two-out single in the bottom of the sixth.

"We took good swings on the ball and just didn't get the results we wanted," said Lapikas, whose single in the fifth broke up Patrick Kaminska's no-hitter.

"Nothing different from the rest of the year."

A gritty effort by starting pitcher Matt Kuna kept UT in the game. The senior right-hander showed resolve after spotting CMU three runs in the first, retiring the next six batters and finishing with 10 strikeouts -- his career high and UT's season high -- in 7⅔ innings. His ninth punch-out was huge, freezing No. 5 hitter Sam Russell with the bases loaded in the fifth.

"He showed his character today," UT coach Cory Mee said of Kuna. "He had a rough first inning and came back and put up zeros. He gave us the opportunity to come back."

Trailing 3-0, UT (30-27) nibbled back with two-out RBI singles by Hammer and James Miglin, chasing Kaminska to the dugout in the sixth. Wes White's single tied the game an inning later.

CMU (31-28) notched its final run on William Arnold's sacrifice fly in the ninth against reliever Lincoln Rassi (3-1). UT's top three hitters in the lineup went down in order in the bottom half, with Hammer and Dan Zuchowski staring at third strikes.

"Right now, it's hard," Kuna said. "But a couple of weeks, couple of months, we'll look back and see what we accomplished here."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.

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