This is turning into one of those made-for-TV movies. I can see it now. It opens with a shot of a rag-tag dejected baseball team sitting in a dugout. A couple of players throw their gloves on the ground in disgust. The camera shot pans over to the scoreboard just over the right field wall and shows the final score – 32-10.
I haven’t asked any of the BG baseball players or coaches about what happened 20 days ago on April 10 (mostly because I value my life and don’t care much for dismemberment), but I can imagine that the evening wasn’t that pretty. No baseball team in BG history had given up 32 runs in a game and suddenly a team that EVERYONE considered the favorite to win the MAC was scuffling along at 8-17 (excuse me if I drop the one tie – there aren’t really any ties in baseball are there?) and 2-6 in conference.
I imagine some of the players got texts and phone calls that night asking if the score was legit. I imagine they had to go back to their dorm rooms or to go see their family and friends and try to come up with an excuse. I know that I, personally, got a couple of texts from members of the athletic department asking if the score they saw was a misprint. And actually, if this were a made-for-TV movie, I doubt the final score would be 32-10. That’s just not realistic enough.
But whatever happened that evening, something changed. The Falcons returned to Steller Field the next day and avenged that loss to Ball State with a 9-3 win over the Cardinals. Maybe the guys had bought into the hype early in the season and that loss made them realize that they couldn’t just walk out onto the field and win games. Maybe the loss loosened up the clubhouse because they knew it couldn’t get any worse than that. As I said, I haven’t asked anybody so I don’t know for sure, but something definitely changed.
Since that fateful day, BG baseball has won seven straight Mid-American Conference games and rides a nine-game winning streak into this afternoon’s series opener with Miami (Ohio) at Steller Field. In all, the team has won 11-of-12 since that loss (BG lost a non-conference game to Michigan 8-5 on April 14 for the only defeat in that stretch), has scored at least 12 runs on four occasions and has blasted 20 or more runs twice. The team has swept rival Toledo and MAC East foe Ohio.
Excuse me if the stat geek in me comes out for a minute, but the numbers are pretty impressive. The Falcons have at least 11 hits in all but one game since that loss (and BG actually won the only game they didn’t have 11 hits). The team is hitting .366 in the past 12 games after hitting only .303 prior to that. Only two teams in NCAA Division I have hit better than .366 this year.
And on the pitching side of things, something dramatic has changed as well. The team ERA since the loss is 4.33, which is solid but not awe-inspiring until you take into account the fact that the team’s ERA over the first 26 games was 7.11 and only two teams in the MAC have a sub 5.00 ERA on the year.
To put up those types of numbers, the whole team has to be contributing. But for my money, nobody has been a bigger and better story during the stretch than Kevin Leady. Leady was named a captain for the 2009 season but missed the entire year with Tommy John surgery. I’m sure he had plenty of sleepness nights wondering if he’d ever pitch again, and if he did, whether or not he’d be able to really contribute.
But Leady was the one that went to the mound April 11, the day after the loss. And Leady got the ship turned around. He went seven innings strong, allowed just two earned runs, and picked up the win. The next weekend, with the team going for a sweep of Toledo, he willed the Falcons to the win. It was arguably the worst hitting performance of the winning streak for the BG, but Leady gave up only one hit through the first seven innings and the team won 4-2. Finally, last weekend he went seven innings again, giving up just three earned runs in a 12-5 win over Ohio. He’s 3-0 on the mound with a 2.82 ERA in the past 20 days.
At 9-6 in league play, the final half of this made-for-TV movie is yet to be written. Five teams still have better records than BG and the Falcons trail Kent State by one game in the MAC East standings. The other four teams with better records all reside in the MAC West and since they all still have to play some combination of each other, there will be plenty of losses to go around.
If this were a made-for-TV movie though, it wouldn’t be about BGSU. It would be about some team that has never won anything. This baseball team has won two MAC regular season titles in a row. And they’ve been in this position before. They know how to win down the stretch and they have a coach who’s been there before.
So get out to Steller Field this weekend and support the Falcons. First pitch is 3 p.m. today, 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. If you can’t get out this weekend, get out next weekend when BG hosts Akron or May 20-22 when the Falcons host Buffalo to round out the regular season. That series could have MAC title implications on the line. This team has been a great feel-good story and let’s help them reach the finish line!