They bunted, they homered, they stole.
They handled adversity, got timely defense, then bunted some more.
But their luck eventually ran out at the hands of the Fighting Irish, and Central Michigan was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Notre Dame on Sunday night after keeping their hopes alive with a victory over UConn earlier in the day.
Central (42-18) went .182 with runners on base and hit into five double plays while trying to squeeze past Notre Dame with the small-ball play that got it there, mustering just a pair of runs in the 14-2 South Bend regional final.
Carter Putz crushed a grand slam in the fifth — his first of two home runs in the game — to put Notre Dame up 6-1. The Irish (33-11) never looked back, finishing with five home runs and 14 hits as a team.
Central needed two wins over Notre Dame to advance after dropping the tournament-opener, 10-0, to the Irish. Notre Dame scored 50 runs in three regional games.
Griffin Lockwood-Powell got Central on the board in the fourth with a solo home run and Jakob Marsee added another run in the sixth, scoring Justin Simpson on a fielder’s choice double play with the bases loaded.
Central starter Cameron Brown (7-2, 4.68 ERA) was knocked out in four innings after giving up seven hits, six runs, five earned and three walks with three strikeouts.
The Chippewas had eight hits, but couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities in the same way as they did against UConn, a 14-9 win. Central had 19 hits, six of them bunt singles, four of them homers in the early game.
Zach Heeke went 3-for-5 with a home run, four RBIs and two runs scored, Mario Camilletti had a home run and two RBIs and Zach Gilles dropped four bunt singles for two RBIs and three runs scored for Central. Chippewas starter Garrett Navarra had two hits, including a home run; he also pitched five innings and gave up nine hits, five earned runs and one walk with two strikeouts.
Central trailed 3-0 early but scored nine unanswered to lead 9-3 in the fourth. UConn chipped away to make it a 9-8 game in the seventh before Central busted it back open with a combination of singles, bunts and walks to put the game out of reach.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.
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