Rockets 2012 campaign ends in MAC Tournament
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 13:05
It did not always appear that 2012 would be a successful year for the UT baseball team — especially with the expectations raised by onlookers who chose Toledo to finish near, or at the top of the conference standings before the season began.
The Rockets hit a six-game skid in the heart of non-conference play and dropped another half-dozen straight in Mid-American Conference action to start the season 12-18 (3-5 in the MAC).
But after losing six consecutive games for the second time in the season, Toledo (30-27, 18-9 MAC) began living up to preseason prognostications, winning 16 of their final 19 conference games en route to capturing the program’s first-ever MAC West title.
“In the middle of the year our guys really adjusted their approach,” said UT head baseball coach Cory Mee. “We really pressed and put a lot of pressure on ourselves early in the year. About halfway through, during our Central Michigan series, I think the guys began to realize that we just need to play the game.”
Mee also credits an overhaul of the rotation during the Central Michigan series for the turnaround. Concerned that short starts were causing his relievers to tire, the coach moved Ryan Wilkinson and Matt Kuna from the bullpen to the weekend rotation.
“After that we got quality outings from our starters the rest of the year,” Mee said. “And our bullpen was even more dominant because we didn’t have to use them for as many innings.”
Invigorated by a change in philosophy and a revamped rotation, the Rockets stopped the bleeding with a 10-9 win over Central Michigan on April 8 before taking two of three games from Western Michigan and sweeping Northern Illinois and Ball State to end the month.
UT stumbled the first week of May, losing two of three contests at home against Buffalo but the Rockets locked up the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament by finishing the regular season with sweeps of Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan.
Though the Rockets wrapped up the season on an improbable tear, last week’s MAC Tournament brought one of the program’s best-ever campaigns to a close.
Toledo came out on the wrong side of a 5-0 decision against No. 7 Miami on May 23 before seeing their season end on a ninth inning score in a 3-2 heartbreaker against No. 3 Central Michigan the next morning.
“We’ve been pitching and playing good defense and executing very well offensively the last month and a half of the season,” Mee said. “But in the two games in the tournament we just really couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“A tournament setting is hard. Your entire season comes down to a couple of games. I think the regular season is probably a truer evaluation of our team.”
The season finale marked the last collegiate contest for the Rockets eight-member senior class — Kuna, Jeff Cola, Joe Corfman, A.J. DeMarco, Mark Lapikas, Alex Radon, Lincoln Rassi and Tyler Scott. The class of 2012 led the Rockets to 114 wins and a school-record four consecutive conference tournament appearances.
Corfman (second base), Kuna (starting pitcher) and Rassi (relief pitcher) were among five Toledo players to be named to the All-MAC team, with each earning First-Team honors. Designated hitter Matt Delewski and starting pitcher Ryan Wilkinson rounded out the Rockets selected, picking up Second-Team honors.
“Those guys poured their hearts into this program for four years and really provided a great example on and off the field for our team,” Mee said. “It’s never an easy thing when the season comes to an end and our seniors move on to bigger and better things. I hope what that class has accomplished really motivates are returning players and also our incoming players to go out and work hard and continue to build the tradition of our program next year.”
On the field, it is, perhaps, the bullpen which will be most affected by the departure of this year’s seniors. Scott (43.1 IP) and Rassi (35.1 IP) were first and second among relievers in innings pitched and first and third in ERA, posting an average of 1.53 and 2.08 respectively.
Wilkinson’s move to the starting rotation also takes away depth from the relief corp, but along with the two other returning starters, he should soften the blow of Kuna’s absence next season. The soon-to-be junior hurler tied Kuna with a team-high seven wins and was second among starters with a 3.00 ERA behind Kuna’s 2.61 mark.
On the offensive front, while Toledo loses its all-time hit leader in Corfman, one of the MAC’s hottest hitting teams down the stretch of the season will welcome back two of its top three hitters by batting average and three of its top five by RBI.
“We got beat last Thursday at 9 a.m.,” Mee said. “We met Friday morning as a team and started talking about our preparation for next year. Hopefully this year is a motivating factor for our guys to make them hungry to get back to (the MAC Tournament) so we can put ourselves in a position to compete for a championship next season.”